AUGUSTA, Ga. – The Lander women's basketball team was outscored 35-16 over the last 12-plus minutes and were eliminated by Columbus State 86-83 in the Peach Belt Conference Tournament semifinals Saturday afternoon at Christenberry Fieldhouse on the campus of Augusta University.
The Bearcats fell to 22-8 and will await their NCAA Division II Tournament fate. They are ranked fifth in the Southeast Region poll.
It was the second consecutive upset victory for sixth-seeded Columbus State, which beat No. 3 seed Flagler Wednesday night before ousting second-seeded Lander.
The Cougars are 16-12 and will face top seed North Georgia Sunday at 1 p.m. for the tournament championship.
The Bearcats led 67-51 with 2:45 left in the third quarter but were outscored 11-0 the rest of that period and 24-16 in the fourth.
PBC Player of the Year Jessica Harris paced Lander with 24 points and six assists.
Freshman Miriam Recarte scored a career-high 19 points for the Bearcats while sharing team-high rebounding honors with seven and also blocking four shots.
Mylea McKenith added 16 points for Lander but was in foul trouble much of the game.
Taya Gibson paced Columbus State with a double-double, scoring 24 points on 10 of 16 shooting from the floor while grabbing a game-high 13 rebounds. Gibson had 11 offensive rebounds.
Leeaysia Williamson added 16 points for the Cougars, Tatiana Wayne scored 15 points, Tatum Jarvis also posted a double-double with 14 points and 12 boards, and Kaihla Carter paced Columbus State with eight assists.
The Bearcats fell behind 7-0 before taking their first lead at 10-9 on a McKenith 3-pointer with 5:30 left in the opening quarter. Columbus State led 18-17 going into the second period.
But Lander's McKenith and Starks each drew their second foul late in the first quarter. McKenith did not return the rest of the first half while Starks only returned with 33 seconds until halftime.
The Cougars led 27-23 with 6:30 left in the half on Gibson's layup. The Bearcats scored 10 unanswered points for a 33-27 advantage, with Recarte making a layup and a three while Ariana Sanders added four points.
Harris's driving layup high off the glass in the final seconds tied the game at 37-all going into halftime.
Recarte, McKenith and Harris made threes, giving Lander its first double-digit lead at 55-45 with 4:29 left in the third.
Recarte's three from the top of the key gave her a career high in points while extending the Bearcat advantage to 60-47 with 3:49 to go. Harris's three made it 67-51 with 2:45 left.
But Columbus State closed the third quarter with 11 unanswered points, forcing three Lander turnovers during the stretch and cutting the score to 67-62 going into the final period.
Jarvis's put-back pulled the Cougars within 69-67 with 8:40 to go. Gibson made one of two free throws as Lander's Melvins fouled out, bringing Columbus State within 72-71 with 7:35 left.
Gibson's layup on the fast-break tied the game at 73-all at the seven-minute mark. Jarvis's three from the left side gave the Cougars their first lead since the opening minute of the second half at 76-73 with six minutes left.
Sarah Crews hit a long jumper near the free-throw line as the shot clock was about to expire, putting the Bearcats back ahead 77-76 with 3:48 to go. McKenith's two free throws tied the game at 79 with 2:19 left.
McKenith tied it again with two more free throws, making it 81-all with one minute to go.
After the Cougars threw the ball away, Starks drove inside for a layup giving Lander an 83-81 lead with 41 seconds left. She was fouled on the play but missed the free throw.
Gibson's offensive put-back resulted in a three-point play, pushing Columbus State back in front 84-83 with 30 seconds to go.
McKenith's long 3-point attempt with 14 seconds left bounced off the rim but the rebound went out of bounds off a Cougar. McKenith then lobbed a high inbounds pass from the left sideline to Tabitha Dailey under the basket and she laid the ball in for an apparent Bearcats lead with 12.8 seconds to go. But she was called for traveling.
Carter made two free throws with 10 seconds left to extend Columbus State's lead to 86-83. Harris drove under the basket and passed the ball out to an open Recarte on the left wing. Recarte attempted a game-tying three but it bounced off the rim as time expired.