Johnson, McKenith carry Lander to NCAA first-round win

Johnson, McKenith carry Lander to NCAA first-round win

COLUMBUS, Ga – Breshay Johnson scored 20 points and grabbed 17 rebounds, while Mylea McKenith scored 20 points and went 10-of-13 from the free throw line as the fifth-seeded Lander Bearcats erased a 24-23 halftime deficit to down No. 5 seed Limestone 70-50 in the first round of the NCAA Southeast Regional Women's Basketball Tournament Friday night at Columbus State's Frank G. Lumpkin Center.

Lander improves 25-7 on the season and will face top-seeded and fourth-ranked Columbus State Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. in the regional semifinals. Columbus State (29-1) is unbeaten at home this year and defeated the Bearcats twice during the regular season.

Wingate and Lincoln Memorial will meet in the other semifinal at 5:00 p.m. Saturday's winners will play in the Southeast Regional final at 7:00 p.m. on Monday night for the right to advance to the Elite Eight, March 21-24, in Columbus, Ohio.

Limestone finished its season 27-5.

The Bearcats are making their third straight appearance in the NCAA tournament, and 11th overall. Lander will try to advance to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 2012 on Saturday night.

Johnson, the Peach Belt Conference Player of the Year, scored 14 points and collected 11 rebounds in the second half. McKenith, the PBC Co-Defensive Player of the Year, scored 15 of her 20 points in the second half after shooting 1-of-11 from the field in the first half. Jessica Harris and Victoria Baldwin each finished with nine points.

"We knew that Limestone had excellent guard play and we felt we were going to have to get a few extra possession on the offensive glass and from turnovers," Lander coach Kevin Pederson said. "We felt we had an advantage inside in this game. They matched us guard for guard, but we felt like Breshay Johnson had an edge inside. We were looking for her to separate herself and she clearly did that in the second half."

"We're thankful to win, we're thankful to move on," Pederson added. "Right now, we can say we're one of the best 32 teams in the country. We'll take it from there and work on the rest tomorrow. "

Jasmine Kearse paced the Saints with 17 points and added four rebounds.

Lander made 23-of-66 shots from the floor (34.8 percent), 21-of-32 free throws (65.6 percent) and 3-of-22 from 3-point range (13.6 percent).

Limestone hit 17-of-51 shots (33.3 percent), 10-of-15 free throws (66.7 percent) and 6-of-19 from behind the arc (31.6 percent).

Lander outrebounded the Saints, 49-34.

The Saints opened the second half with a basket from Jasmine Richardson to take a 26-23 lead, but the Bearcats embarked on a 17-0 run over the next 4:39 to lead 40-26. McKenith and Johnson accounted for 12 of the Bearcats' 17 points during the run. Over a 3:02 span, the Lander defense forced seven consecutive Limestone turnovers.

Lander led 45-33 entering the fourth quarter and an offensive putback from Johnson with 6:38 to play gave the Bearcats a 54-39 lead. Johnson scored nine points in the fourth quarter.

The Bearcats scored four of their final six points at the free throw line to ice the victory.