ANDERSON, S.C. – The fifth-seeded Lander women's basketball team got a career-high 20 points from freshman Miriam Recarte while Jessica Harris made four crucial free throws in the final 17 seconds as the Bearcats beat fourth-seeded Carson-Newman 82-79 in the NCAA Southeast Regional quarterfinals at the Abney Athletic Center at Anderson University Friday night.
Lander improved to 23-8, winning at least 23 games for the fifth straight year. The Bearcats have won first-round games at the NCAA Tournament in three consecutive seasons.
Carson-Newman's season ends at 22-8.
Lander, making its 13th appearance in the NCAA Tournament, will face top seed Anderson University Saturday night in a Southeast Regional semifinal. Anderson beat Barton 69-66 in overtime in their first-round game Friday. North Georgia and Wingate meet in the other semifinal.
Recarte entered Friday night's game averaging six points per contest. She led the Bearcats with 20 points, eight rebounds and three blocked shots.
"It's so good for these kids to win a close game in a do-or-die situation," Lander head coach Kevin Pederson said. "Miriam Recarte was fantastic tonight. She is averaging about 13, 14 points the last four or five games. She has come from about our number 12 (option) on the team to number three."
Mylea McKenith added 18 points and four assists for the Bearcats. The senior made six of six free throws as the team hit 19 of 23 from the stripe.
Sarah Crews added 10 points and seven rebounds while leading Lander with five assists.
Amiaya Melvins also scored 10 points for the Bearcats. Peach Belt Conference Player of the Year Jessica Harris was saddled with foul trouble and was held to 10 points. But her four free throws turned back a Carson-Newman rally in a game during which Lander never trailed.
"We will win or lose with the ball in her hands," Pederson said of Harris.
The Bearcats led by as many as 12 in the fourth quarter and were up 11 with 3:33 to go. But Carson-Newman twice got within a point in the final minute.
"We know they are a good team," McKenith said of the Eagles. "We have battled them plenty of times. We just needed to keep going, no matter what they did. We've been in a lot of close games this season. We know what that feeling is like. We know we can't get rattled. We have a great ball handler Jessica Harris and we wanted the ball in her hands."
Briana Smith led the Eagles with 20 points while Kayla Marosites added a double-double with 12 points and 13 rebounds.
Carson-Newman star point guard Haris Price also faced foul trouble and wound up with 15 points and a team-high five assists. Ashton Wykle added a season-high 12 points for the Eagles while Tori Griffin scored 10 points.
Melvins converted a three-point play and Crews swished a three-pointer, staking Lander to a 10-2 lead. Carson-Newman scored seven unanswered points to pull within 10-9. But the Bearcats extended their lead to 17-12 after one quarter.
Harris opened the second period with a transition three and Recarte banked in a three of her own as Lander upped its advantage to 23-12. The Eagles went more than five minutes without a field goal before Chanler Gee's basket pulled them within 24-14.
Wykle's third three of the half cut Carson-Newman's deficit to 35-30 with 3:17 to go. Griffin's three pulled the Eagles within 37-35 with 1:40 left.
Symone Starks answered with a three, helping Lander to a 40-37 halftime advantage.
Foul trouble was a big story in the first half as McKenith sat the entire second quarter on the Bearcats bench with two fouls while Harris and Crews also had two. Carson-Newman's Price also had two.
Harris drew her third foul with eight minutes left in the third quarter as Lander held a slim 42-39 lead and then her fourth at the 7:29 mark.
Crews made a three-pointer, Recarte and Tabitha Dailey added baskets and Crews scored again during a 9-0 run, extending the Bearcat lead to 53-43 inside the four-minute mark.
Lander led 61-53 going into the final quarter.
McKenith's three increased the Bearcat lead to 69-57 with 7:09 to go. Harris returned to the court at the 6:46 mark.
Recarte's three kept Lander's lead in double figures, making it 72-61 with 5:27 left. Recarte's baseline jumper made it 76-65 with 3:33 to go.
Price's three-pointer and Smith's two free throws pulled Carson-Newman within 76-70 with 2:39 left.
Smith's three closed the Eagles within a possession at 76-73 at the two-minute mark.
Harris drove inside for a basket as the shot clock was winding down, increasing Lander's lead to 78-73 with 1:27 to go.
But Price's jumper pulled Carson-Newman back within a possession again at 78-75 at the one-minute mark. Then Smith collected a steal, giving the Eagles a game-tying possession opportunity with 52 seconds left.
Price's driving layup with 42 seconds to go pulled Carson-Newman within 78-77.
Forced to foul three times to put Lander in the bonus, Harris was sent to the free-throw line with 18 seconds left and hit both for an 80-77 lead.
Smith's driving basket cut it to 80-79 with 13 seconds to go. Harris was immediately fouled and made one of two free throws. After her second clanked off the rim, Carson-Newman had a chance to tie or take the lead but was called for an over-and-back turnover.
Harris again made one of two free throws with five seconds left for an 82-79 advantage.
Carson-Newman's last-second game-tying three-point attempt bounced off the front left side of the rim as time expired.