GREENWOOD – Lander's all-time leading scorer Breshay Johnson posted a double-double in her final career home game as the Bearcats advanced to the Peach Belt Conference Tournament semifinals with a 68-60 victory over Clayton State University Wednesday night at Horne Arena.
Second-seeded Lander improved to 23-6 on the season while the seventh-seeded Lakers had their season end at 14-15.
The Bearcats trailed until late in the third quarter when they outscored Clayton State 22-11 to take the lead for good, forcing 10 Lakers turnovers in the quarter.
"What you saw in the second half was Breshay Johnson play like a senior who did not want to lose her final home game," said head coach Kevin Pederson. "When we needed her, she came up with some big plays."
Lander's quest for a third consecutive appearance in the PBC Tournament championship game continues Saturday in the semifinals versus Columbus State at the University of North Georgia in Dahlonega, Ga. Columbus State beat Francis Marion 75-60 in their quarterfinal contest Wednesday night.
Top seed North Georgia faces Georgia College in Saturday's other semifinal, and the championship game will be Sunday in Dahlonega.
The Bearcats are participating in their 24th PBC Tournament in 26 years. Lander is seeking its fifth tournament championship in program history (1999, 2008, 2009 and 2016).
Johnson took charge for Lander, posting a game high in both points (23) and rebounds (12). She made 10 of 17 shots from the floor and even took four charges on the defensive end while adding three steals.
Chelsea Mitchell scored 17 points on eight of 13 shooting while also grabbing eight boards and leading the Bearcats with four steals.
Christal Williams contributed 13 points and four assists for Lander. Jessica Harris added seven points while pacing the Bearcats with five assists. Destinee Langford added six points and four assists for Lander.
Abrelyn Rackley led Clayton State with 15 points and eight rebounds. Aysia Grimsley added 11 points for the Lakers while Takwana Bland scored 10 points.
Clayton State led 7-2 with 5:43 left in the opening quarter when Grimsley made one of two free throws as the Bearcats missed six of their first seven shots. Johnson rebounded a teammate's missed 3-point attempt and laid it in with eight seconds to go, closing Lander within 14-13 heading into the second period.
The Bearcats pulled into an 18-all tie with 7:10 left until halftime when Langford made one of two free throws. But Rackley hit a 3 and a layup during a 7-0 run, sending the Lakers out to a 25-18 lead.
Bland's 3 upped Clayton State's advantage to 31-22 at the 2:37 mark. Johnson closed the half with a pair of baskets in the paint, and Lander trailed 31-26 at the break.
Harris found Johnson open inside for a layup as the Bearcats pulled within a point for the fifth time in the third quarter, cutting the deficit to 39-38 with 3:53 left. Langford's free throw tied it at 39 at 3:10.
Lander took its first lead of the game at 41-39 with 2:22 to go when Williams banked in a jump shot off a Johnson steal. It was the team's first lead at Horne Arena since the end of the Young Harris game on Feb. 15 (the Bearcats never led against North Georgia at home last week).
Leading 43-42, Harris drove into the paint and made a floater to start a big Lander run. After Johnson stole a Lakers pass, she drove inside and passed the ball out to the left corner to Harris who swished a 3 at the buzzer for a 48-42 advantage going into the fourth.
Langford and Johnson scored in the opening minute of the final period, capping a 9-0 run to extend Lander's lead to 52-42.
Kietta Saunders hit a mid-range jumper to pull Clayton State within 56-51 with 4:40 to go. The Lakers missed five shots in a row during a long possession and after the Bearcats finally got a defensive rebound, Mitchell nailed a long jumper to increase Lander's lead to 58-51 at the 3:16 mark.
Dalania Clardy's layup pulled Clayton State within 58-55 with 2:35 left. But Williams answered with a 3 from the left side and Lander led 61-55 with 2:11 to go.
Saunders made one of two free throws, cutting the Laker deficit to 61-58 with one minute left.
But Langford found Williams wide open under the basket for a layup to make it 63-58 with 55 seconds left. After Clayton State was called for a three-second violation, Williams found Johnson wide open for a back-door layup and a 65-58 Bearcats advantage. Lander would add three more free throws to clinch the win.