NCAA Tournament: Lander, Elkins Outlast Limestone 77-68
AIKEN, S.C. – Precious Elkins picked a great time to have the best game of her Lander career. The junior forward posted a double-double with 29 points and 12 rebounds as the fourth-seeded Lady Bearcats outlasted No. 5 seed Limestone College 77-68 in the first round of the NCAA Southeast Regional Women's Basketball Tournament Friday night at USC Aiken's Convocation Center.
No. 23 ranked Lander improved 22-7 on the season and will face top seed USC Aiken Saturday night at 7 p.m. in the regional semifinals at the Convocation Center. USC Aiken (27-3) is unbeaten at home this year and defeated the Lady Bearcats twice during the regular season.
Clayton State and Wingate will meet in the other semifinal at 5 o'clock. Saturday's winners will play in the Southeast Regional final at 7 p.m. Monday for the right to advance to the Elite Eight, March 20-21, and 23 in San Antonio, Texas.
Limestone finished its season 25-7.
The Lady Bearcats are making their fifth straight appearance in the NCAA tournament, and eighth overall. Lander will try to advance to the Sweet Sixteen for the third straight year Saturday night.
Elkins, a transfer from Lenoir-Rhyne University, made an astounding 14 of 19 shots from the floor and hit several big shots down the stretch, carrying Lander to victory. She was making just her eighth start of the season and her 29 points are a career high.
Jasmine Judge added 15 points for the Lady Bearcats, including five of eight from 3-point range. Brittni Johnson added a double-double with 11 points and 10 assists.
"We knew that Limestone was a fantastic team," Lander coach Kevin Pederson said. "I thought both teams matched up really well. We have four good guards and they have really good guards. We thought we had an advantage in the post. We thought that the combination of Kaylyn Small, Keondra Barnes and Precious Elkins was going to be an advantage for us.
"At this point of the season, you are just fortunate to get the win and be able to move on," Pederson added. "We are very thankful to have another chance to play USC Aiken."
Stephanie Hayes paced the Saints with 21 points and added nine rebounds while Kayleigh West posted a double-double with 17 points and 12 rebounds. Lauren Pace added 12 points for Limestone.
Lander made 31 of 70 shots from the floor (44 percent), six of 13 free throws (46 percent) and nine of 26 from 3-point range (35 percent).
Limestone hit 28 of 59 shots (47 percent), seven of 14 free throws (50 percent) and five of 17 from behind the arc (29 percent).
Each team had 39 rebounds.
The Saints were on a 21-7 run, wiping out a 14-point deficit, when Lander's Judge hit her fifth 3-pointer of the night to break a 55-all tie with 6:46 left. The Lady Bearcats would never trail again.
Ciara Lyons scored on a long pass from Johnson, and Elkins scored two of Lander's next three baskets to extend the Lady Bearcat lead to 66-58 inside the four-minute mark.
After Hayes hit a 3 for the Saints, Elkins made another huge basket for Lander. She rebounded Mukia Myrick's desperation 3-point attempt as the shot clock was expiring, converting a layup to extend the Lady Bearcat lead to 68-61 with 2:40 to go.
But Hayes scored twice more including a transition layup off a steal to close Limestone within 68-65 with 1:20 left.
But Lyons got a pass inside to Johnson for a layup, extending Lander's lead back to five at the one-minute mark.
After West scored for the Saints, Elkins took a long pass from Johnson, almost lost the ball under the basket, but gathered it in and made a layup, falling to the floor as she was fouled. Elkins converted the three-point play for a 73-67 advantage with 40 seconds to go.
Johnson and Lyons each added a pair of free throws to clinch the victory.
Limestone dominated the game's first five minutes, building a 13-4 lead when Maria Young capped a 7-0 run with a 3-pointer.
But Lander responded with 12 unanswered points, holding the Saints scoreless for six minutes. Judge's long 3-pointer gave the Lady Bearcats their first lead at 14-13 with 10:44 left, and Small scored in the paint to complete the 12-0 run.
Young ended Limestone's scoring drought with a 3-pointer, tying the game at 16-all at the 9:01 mark.
After Barnes scored to put Lander back on top, Limestone ran off the game's next 10 points. Young's 3-pointer and a three-point play by Hayes keyed the run, and Ashley Robinson's layup gave the Saints a 26-18 advantage with 6:33 to go.
The Lady Bearcats pulled back within a possession on Judge's second 3 of the night, closing them within 28-25 just inside the four-minute mark. Myrick's 3 cut it to 30-28 and an Elkins put-back tied it at 30-all with 2:35 to go.
Judge's third trey of the game put Lander in front, 33-30, at the 1:55 mark, capping an 8-0 run. Small's rebound basket with three seconds left gave the Lady Bearcats a 37-32 halftime lead as they closed the first half on a 19-6 run.
Elkins opened the second half by driving the baseline for a layup and added a put-back basket in the paint, expanding Lander's lead to 41-34 with 17:10 left. Lyons stole an inbounds pass, leading to another Judge 3.
Judge collected another Lady Bearcat steal, leading to Johnson's open 3 to extend Lander's lead to 48-34 with 15:30 left. It was their largest lead of the game as the Lady Bearcats had runs of 11-2 in the second half and 30-8 overall.
While Lander went scoreless over the next two minutes, the Saints made only a small dent in their deficit as they pulled within 48-27. Then Elkins scored on yet another put-back, extending the Lady Bearcat lead to 50-37 with 13:48 left.
Limestone then pulled off a rare five-point sequence, closing within 50-42 when West scored inside, was fouled, but missed the free throw. Tia Williams grabbed the offensive rebound and got the ball out to Hayes for a 3-pointer.
After Johnson hit a 3 to push Lander's lead back to 11, the Saints got within 53-51 near the nine-minute mark on a three-point play by Williams, a pair of layups by Hayes, and Danielle Dixon's short jumper in the paint. The Saints had an opportunity to tie, but turned it over.
Elkins ended Limestone's 9-0 run with another basket in the paint, giving Lander a 55-51 lead at the eight-minute mark. But Pace's free throws pulled the Saints back within two, and Pace's layup tied it at 55 with 7:13 left to complete a 13-2 run.