JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – Carson-Newman went on a 31-8 run in the second half, eliminating the Lander Bearcats in the NCAA Southeast Regional semifinals 96-85 Saturday night at Holt Fieldhouse at Carson-Newman University.
Lander, seeded fourth in the Southeast Regional, ended its season with a 25-8 record. The Bearcats fell one victory short of the national Sweet 16.
Lander has three consecutive 25-win seasons for the first time in program history.
The top seed Eagles won their 23rd consecutive home game, improving to 31-2. Nationally sixth-ranked Carson-Newman will meet Peach Belt Conference champ and No. 3 seed University of North Georgia for the Regional championship Monday night at Holt Fieldhouse. Monday's winner advances to the Elite 8 in Sioux Falls, S.D.
North Georgia outlasted No. 2 seed Wingate on Amber Skidgel's buzzer-beater in Saturday's first semifinal.
Kayla Marosites had a huge game for Carson-Newman, scoring a career-high 31 points on 12 of 16 shooting from the floor including six of seven from 3-point range. She was one of two Eagles with double-doubles as she led the team with 10 rebounds.
Mika Wester added 19 points and 11 assists for Carson-Newman, Tori Griffin scored 14 points, and Katie Stubblefield added 10 points.
Chelsea Mitchell led Lander in four categories with 19 points, nine rebounds, five steals and four assists.
Ariana Sanders added 15 points for the Bearcats while Lea Petit scored 13 points on six of eight shooting from the floor. Petit was playing big minutes due to Breshay Johnson's early foul trouble and finished with the second-highest scoring game of her career.
Jessica Harris added 10 points for Lander while Johnson and Destinee Langford scored eight points apiece.
The game got off to an up-and-down, high-scoring start with several ties and lead changes. Carson-Newman made eight of its first 10 shots and led 19-17. Mitchell's three-point play and Petit's inside bucket gave the Bearcats a 22-19 advantage. Harris's 3 from the left corner broke a 22-all tie at the 1:45 mark.
After seven ties and seven lead changes, the first period ended with Lander leading 26-24.
Mitchell's second three-point play of the half broke the game's eighth tie, giving the Bearcats a 29-26 advantage with 8:43 remaining in the second quarter. Lander rebounded its own missed free throw, leading to a Sanders medium-range jumper for a 33-28 lead at the 7:36 mark.
Sanders made two 3s in a row, staking the Bearcats to a 39-31 advantage with 5:57 until halftime.
Sanders hit a 20-footer, giving her 10 consecutive Lander points and a 41-34 lead. Harris followed by grabbing a defensive rebound and driving the other way for a layup, extending the Bearcats advantage to nine.
Langford's driving layup off an outlet pass from Christal Williams gave Lander a 47-40 lead with 1:43 left. But Marosites completed a three-point play, pulling the Eagles within 49-45 with 49 seconds to go.
The Bearcats led 49-45 at the break, only the fourth time all season that Carson-Newman had trailed at halftime.
Mitchell opened the second half with a layup. But Wester made a 3-pointer and a short jumper, pulling the Eagles within 51-50 with nine minutes left in the third quarter.
Harris's steal and layup followed by Destinee Webster's two free throws after a Williams steal put Lander back up by five.
Webster's 3 from the top of the key off the Bearcats' 11th offensive rebound gave the visitors a 60-54 lead at the 6:13 mark. Johnson's stick-back after another offensive board made it 64-57 with 5:17 left in the third. But Carson-Newman turned the game around after that.
Griffin's open 3 from the right corner tied the game for the ninth time at 64-all with 4:03 to go, capping a run of seven unanswered Carson-Newman points. Marosites swished a 3, giving the Eagles their first lead since the opening quarter at 67-66 at the 3:16 mark.
Marosites' fifth 3 of the night broke the game's 10th tie and put Carson-Newman up 70-67 with 2:14 to go, and Griffin followed with another 3 and the hosts were up six. They would not trail again.
The Eagles closed the third quarter on a 20-5 run as Wester's jumper in the final seconds gave the hosts a 77-69 advantage going into the fourth. Carson-Newman made 12 of 16 shots (75 percent) in the third period.
Sanders opened the final period with a 3 for Lander. But Carson-Newman went on an 11-0 run, building an 88-72 advantage inside the six-minute mark. The Eagles were on an overall run of 31-8 since being down seven midway through the third.
Sanders made a pair of free throws to pull the Bearcats within 10 at 89-79 with 3:23 to go. Petit's jumper cut Lander's deficit to 93-85 with 45 seconds left. Marosites made a 3 in the final seconds for the game's last points.