COLUMBUS, Ga. – Lander's Corey Wright and David Pruett led a remarkable comeback that culminated with Pruett's dramatic game-tying 3-pointer in the final seconds of regulation, but the Bearcats fell short in overtime, losing to Columbus State 84-81 in the Peach Belt Conference Men's Tournament quarterfinals Friday night at Lumpkin Center on Columbus State's campus.
Lander trailed by 17 points early in the second half before rallying to force overtime, and came back again in OT only to fall short.
The Bearcats fell to 18-9 on the season in what could be their final game, unless they receive an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament.
Columbus improved to 17-10 and faces USC Aiken in the PBC semifinals Saturday night at 8 p.m. Augusta State and Montevallo meet in the other semifinal Saturday.
Wright scored 24 points and added seven assists. But he did his best work in the final 15 minutes of regulation.
Pruett scored 15 points, hitting five of seven shots from behind the 3-point arc including two huge treys in the final minute-plus of regulation.
Peach Belt Player of the Year Dwight Tolbert added 14 points, seven rebounds and six assists while fellow senior Jermel Kennedy posted a double-double with 11 points and 13 rebounds. Darion Canty, another senior, added nine points, six assists, five boards and three steals.
Darius McKnight led Columbus with a double-double, scoring a career-high 25 points while adding a game-high 14 rebounds.
Steve Peterson added 19 points for the Cougars, Idell Bell scored 16 points, Jarmarquis Steverson scored 12 points, and Winford Ivey added eight points and five assists.
Columbus used a 24-7 run between the last five minutes of the first half and first three minutes of the second half to build a seemingly invincible 17-point lead at 50-33.
Then Lander started putting together a remarkable rally that started slowly and then took off. Wright hit a 3-pointer and also a layup to close the gap to 50-38 with 15:46 to go. Cody Waterworth twice hit jumpers just inside the arc to pull the Bearcats within 10 at 52-42 and 54-44.
Canty's layup closed Lander within 10 again at 56-46 and then Tolbert came alive. He hit consecutive 3-pointers and the Bearcats were suddenly within 56-52 at the 11-minute mark with a 19-6 run.
Lander had four possessions over the next two minutes to close within a possession but couldn't convert, and Columbus ended a four-minute scoring drought when Peterson made one of two free throws.
After five missed shots in a row and two turnovers, the Cougars ended their five-minute scoring drought from the floor when Peterson hit a 3 to make it 60-52 with 7:40 left.
Wright's two free throws pulled the Bearcats within 62-56 with 5:54 to go, and Wright's bank shot as the shot clock was running out cut Lander's deficit to six again at 64-58 just under the five-minute mark.
Wright continued to carry the Bearcats on his back as he drove inside and scored to pull the Bearcats within 64-60 with 4:08 to go.
After Bell made one of two free throws for Columbus, Lander drew within a possession for the first time in the second half when Tolbert found Kennedy open inside for a basket that made it 65-62 with 3:31 left.
The Bearcats got within one on Canty's off-balance put-back in the lane with 2:50 to go, making it 65-64. But Bell and Steverson each hit two of two free throws to extend Columbus's lead to 69-64 at the two-minute mark.
After Lander missed a shot and the Cougars rebounded, they started to milk the clock and it looked bad for the Bearcats. But Wright got a steal and passed to Pruett in transition for a 3 from the right corner as Lander was within 69-67 with 1:15 left.
Columbus brought the shot clock down again and Peterson took a 3-point shot but missed. Teammate McKnight was in position to grab the offensive rebound under the basket, but the ball bounced off his hands out of bounds.
Wright raced up the court toward the basket, was fouled by former Lander player Paul Darkwa and had a chance to tie at the free-throw line with 20 seconds left. Wright made the first, but missed the second. However, the Cougars' Ivey stepped on the baseline while being trapped in the back-court, turning the ball back over to the Bearcats with 16 seconds to go. But Tolbert lost control of the ball while making a cut toward the basket, turning the ball back over to Columbus with 12.8 seconds left.
Wright fouled Ivey in the back-court with 9.7 seconds to go, and Ivey hit both free throws to make it 71-68. But Lander was still within a possession and gave the crowd a thrilling finish to regulation.
Wright passed off to the left side to Pruett, who hit a leaning, off-balance 3 to tie the game at 71-all with two seconds left. The Cougars heaved a desperation shot of their own that hit the backboard, and the game into overtime.
The Bearcats went cold in OT and Columbus grabbed another seemingly safe 79-72 lead with just 1:36 left on McKnight's free throw, Peterson's 3 and layup, and a McKnight layup. Lander had only a Wright free throw in the first three-plus minutes of overtime.
But the Bearcats didn't quit. Pruett hit a long 3 for the team's first field goal of overtime with 1:23 to go, and Kennedy hit one of two free throws to pull Lander within 79-76 with 44.4 seconds left.
The Bearcats briefly got possession back on a steal, but Columbus got the ball back on a steal of its own a couple seconds later and Ivey hit two free throws for an 81-76 lead.
But Wright hit a 3 to pull Lander within 81-79 with 18 seconds left. Stevenson hit two free throws to extend the lead to four, but Kennedy scored on Wright's sideline lob pass to close the Bearcats within 83-81 with seven seconds left.
Ivey was fouled immediately but hit only one of two free throws, giving the Cougars a three-point lead but leaving Lander an opening to hit a tying shot again. But the Bearcats ran out of miracles, turning the ball over with two seconds to go as Columbus advanced to the PBC semifinals.
Lander faced an early 8-2 deficit with Bell converting a rare four-point play to give the Cougars the six-point lead.
But Tolbert drew a foul outside the arc and hit three free throws to pull the Bearcats within 8-5, Tolbert hit a 3 to close the gap to 11-10, and after McKnight completed a three-point play for Columbus, Pruett hit back-to-back 3s to give Lander its first lead of the game at 16-14 with 14 minutes left.
The Cougars used a 9-4 run, taking a 23-20 lead at the 10:15 mark on Peterson's 3. Lander answered with Canty's long jumper and Wright's go-ahead breakaway layup off Tolbert's steal for a 24-23 lead.
The Bearcats were still ahead, 28-26, when Wright hit a jumper with 5:43 left.
But Columbus closed the first half with a 17-3 run including 3-pointers by Steverson, Ivey, and Peterson, an inbounds pass steal and layup by Peterson, and an offensive rebound dunk by McKnight. The Cougars led 43-31 at the break.
Columbus kept the momentum going into the second half, getting three early free throws and then a four-point possession when Bell scored, the Bearcats were called for a foul, and McKnight scored on a put-back to make it 50-33 at the 17:29 mark.
Lander made 30 of 67 shots from the floor (45 percent), 11 of 15 free throws (73 percent) and 10 of 26 from 3-point range (39 percent) while having a 36-31 edge on the boards.
The Cougars hit 28 of 59 shots (48 percent), 19 of 26 from the stripe (73 percent), and nine of 24 from behind the arc (38 percent).