Women's basketball beats No. 22 North Georgia in battle for first place in PBC

Women's basketball beats No. 22 North Georgia in battle for first place in PBC

GREENWOOD – The Lander women's basketball team got a combined 39 points and seven assists apiece from Jessica Harris and Mylea McKenith and beat No. 22-ranked North Georgia 75-61 in a showdown for first place in the Peach Belt Conference Wednesday night at Horne Arena.

The Bearcats improved to 14-5 overall and remained in first place by improving to 11-2 in the PBC. Lander has won 10 of its last 11 games, the best stretch in the conference this season.

North Georgia's four-game winning streak over the Bearcats ended. The defending Peach Belt champion Nighthawks fell to 14-4, 9-3.

It was Lander's first win over North Georgia in exactly three years, dating back to Jan. 30, 2016. McKenith was the only Bearcat on the current roster who played in that game in 2016.

The teams will have a rematch in Dahlonega, Ga., Feb. 27.

"It was big," head coach Kevin Pederson said of the win. "We started out sluggish and I thought we looked scared when this game started, so it was nice to see this team regroup and come back."

The Bearcats trailed 26-18 early in the second period but led by 21 in the fourth, outscoring North Georgia 53-24 over that stretch.

Harris paced Lander with 21 points, joining the 1,000-point career club. Her seven assists gave her a league-leading 92 assists and the junior guard also leads the PBC in steals and made free throws.

McKenith added 18 points, seven assists and three steals. She tied Brittni Johnson as Lander's all-time leader in steals.

Symone Starks flirted with a double-double, scoring 13 points while leading the Bearcats with nine rebounds. Tabitha Dailey added 13 points on five of seven shooting from the floor. Miriam Recarte contributed eight points and five rebounds off the Lander bench.

Tamera Thorpe paced the Nighthawks with 15 points while Julianne Sutton added a double-double with 14 points on seven of 10 shooting and a game-high 16 rebounds. Amber Skidgel added 14 points for North Georgia.

The Nighthawks made only three of 22 attempts from three-point range (14 percent) and committed 19 turnovers.

North Georgia led 18-9 with 1:08 left in the opening period on Thorpe's layup. But Harris made a three-pointer with 56 seconds to go and then ended the quarter with an exclamation point.

After a Nighthawks shot rimmed out, Lander inbounded the ball under its own basket with three seconds left. Harris took the pass and dribbled just past mid-court, launching a shot from the edge of the Bearcat logo and swishing it at the buzzer to cut Lander's deficit to 18-15.

North Georgia built its lead back to eight and was up 28-22 with 3:35 to go in the half on Sutton's basket. But the Bearcats went on a 15-0 run, including five apiece from McKenith and Starks and a three-point play by Dailey to take a 37-28 advantage.

Lander led 37-32 at halftime.

The Nighthawks opened the second half with the first three baskets, taking a 38-37 lead on Skidgel's layup. But the Bearcats regained their five-point advantage when McKenith hit a jumper in the lane, making it 47-42 with 5:30 left in the third quarter.

Lander closed the period strong, with Recarte hitting three jumps shots and adding a blocked shot to help the hosts extend their lead to 59-47 going into the final quarter.

Harris got the Bearcats off to a fast start in the first minute of the fourth period when she took a back-door pass from McKenith and converted a three-point play for a 62-47 advantage.

Harris's steal and driving layup increased Lander's lead to 71-50 with 6:19 left. North Georgia never threatened the rest of the way.