GREENWOOD – Nigel Grant scored 25 points as UNC Pembroke rallied from a 17-0 deficit, built a nine-point lead early in the second half, fell back behind but used a late 11-0 run to outlast the Lander Bearcats 81-78 Wednesday night in Peach Belt Conference action at Horne Arena.
Lander fell to 5-7 overall, 1-5 in the Peach Belt. The Braves improved to 8-3, 4-1.
"We obviously came out hot, but they're a good team and you knew they'd make a run," said head coach Steve Roberts. "I was a little disappointed in how we started the second half. We put in some young guys and they got us back in it. Sidney and Zane played well and I thought Codrin and DeShundre Rucker came in and did some good things. What they just did, you can't do that in practice. There were some bright spots for us, we just have to continue to get better."
Zane Rankin led the Bearcats with 18 points, while Rahu Purdie and Sidney Robinson added 13 points apiece.
Sergio Smith added nine points while leading Lander with seven rebounds. Kade Marra contributed eight points while pacing the Bearcats with three assists.
Nicklas Jonsson had eight points while Codrin Cobzaru led Lander with three blocked shots.
Grant made nine of 14 shots from the floor in leading all scorers with his 25 points before fouling out with 5:31 left. Brandon Watts added 17 points and four assists for UNC Pembroke.
James Murray-Boyles scored 12 for the Braves while Micah Kinsey added 10 points and a game-high five steals. Grant, Watts and Akia Pruitt led UNC Pembroke with eight rebounds apiece. Pruitt also had three blocked shots.
The Bearcats exploded out of the gates in building their 17-0 advantage. Rankin and Robinson hit back-to-back 3-pointers for a 14-0 lead, and Marra's 3 from the left corner made it 17-0 with 14:50 left in the opening half.
After UNC Pembroke missed its first nine shots from the floor, Watts finally ended the scoring drought with a successful jumper at the 14:39 mark.
Pruitt's basket capped a 9-2 run as the Braves pulled within 19-9 with 12 minutes to go. But Purdie made a pair of baskets and Jonsson scored to increase Lander's lead back to 25-9 as the hosts were shooting 10 of 16 from the floor to that point.
Grant's two free throws cut UNC Pembroke's deficit to single digits at 28-19 with 7:53 left.
The Braves fell back behind by double digits at 37-25. But Grant and Murray-Boyles scored two baskets apiece as UNC Pembroke outscored the Bearcats 12-3 over the final four minutes of the half to close within 40-37 at the break.
The game was tied for the first time at 40-all on Tyrell Kirk's layup in the first minute of the second half and the Braves took their first lead on a Watts basket making it 44-42 at the 18-minute mark.
UNC Pembroke's Micah Kinsey collected a steal and went in for a dunk that was on its way down but rimmed back out. However, Watts was there for the put-back as the visitor lead grew to 47-42.
Grant added a dunk on their next possession as part of an 11-0 Braves run that turned a 42-40 deficit into a 51-42 lead.
Robinson and Marra each made driving layups during a 10-1 Lander run, tying the game at 52 with 11:43 to go.
Rankin's 3 from in front of the Bearcats bench tied the game at 57-all with 9:20 left. Rankin stole a pass and drove nearly the length of the floor for a layup, giving Lander a 60-57 lead with 8:33 to go.
UNC Pembroke missed its first 11 attempts from behind the arc until Grant finally hit a 3, pulling the Braves within 63-62 with 7:23 left.
After UNC Pembroke briefly regained the lead at 66-65, Sergio Smith's basket in the paint gave Lander a 73-68 advantage with just over four minutes to go.
But the Braves came back yet again with the game's next 11 points, regaining the lead at 74-73 with 2:45 left on a pair of Pruitt free throws. They extended the lead to 76-73 on Kinsey's steal and basket at the 1:39 mark.
Still up 3, UNC Pembroke committed a turnover with 57 seconds to go. But Lander failed to take advantage, committing a turnover of its own. Pruitt made one of two free throws and David Strother hit two of two, extending the lead to 79-73 with 16 seconds left.
Purdie's long 3 at the buzzer cut the final deficit to three points.