GREENWOOD – Lander senior Breshay Johnson made 17 of 18 free throws while teammate Jessica Harris also had a big game as the Bearcats opened the new year with a 75-54 victory over Peach Belt Conference rival UNC Pembroke Wednesday night at Horne Arena.
Lander improved to 10-2 overall, 5-1 in the Peach Belt. The Braves fell to 3-6, 1-4.
The Bearcats held their fourth consecutive opponent under 60 points.
Lander will have a Peach Belt showdown at home Saturday against Flagler College, which has yet to lose a league game. The Bearcats could take over first place in the PBC if they are able to win Saturday.
Johnson led Lander with 23 points despite taking only three shots from the floor, making all three. She also had nine rebounds, falling one board shy of a fourth consecutive double-double while also blocking two shots.
Harris added 18 points, eight rebounds and a team-high five assists for the Bearcats. Christal Williams contributed 13 points while Destinee Webster paced Lander with three steals.
"We knew that a team like UNC Pembroke would make things hard on Breshay," said head coach Kevin Pederson. "We just kept telling her, 'keep going inside' and she did a great job from the free throw line. Our guards didn't shoot very well but Jessica Harris stepped up and made plays when we couldn't score. We don't win that game without Jessica."
Nyla Allen was UNC Pembroke's leading scorer with 13 points. Alecia Hardy added 11 points while Brandi Robinson led the Braves with seven rebounds.
Lander used an 11-0 run to erase an early 4-2 deficit. Williams made a 3-pointer while Johnson completed a pair of three-point plays and also hit two other free throws for a 13-4 lead with 4:38 left in the opening quarter.
Robinson's three-point play pulled UNC Pembroke within 14-13 with 2:38 left in the period. But that was as close as the visitors would get. The Bearcats were up 18-15 after one quarter.
Lander opened the second period with eight unanswered points to build a 26-15 lead with 5:17 left. Lea Petit made a layup and a put-back, and Harris added a layup and two free throws.
Harris made two more free throws in the final minute to give the Bearcats their largest lead of the first half at 34-20. Allen's 3 pulled the Braves within 34-23 at the break.
Reigning Peach Belt Conference Player of the Week Chelsea Mitchell rebounded Victoria Baldwin's missed 3 and laid it in, giving Lander a 50-36 advantage just inside three minutes left in the third quarter.
Williams swished a long 3, making it 55-38 at the 1:43 mark. The Bearcats were up 57-41 going into the final period.
After Lander's Destinee Langford opened the fourth quarter with a 3, Johnson's 12th and 13th free throws upped the Bearcat lead to its largest of the game at 62-41 with 8:23 left.
Lander's first fast-break basket of the night came with 4:34 left when Langford converted a steal into a layup, making it 66-48.
Harris matched the team's largest lead of the night with a 3 from the left side for a 71-50 lead at the three-minute mark. Harris made another 3 from the opposite side as the lead continued to grow, making it 75-52 inside two minutes to go.