DAHLONEGA, GA – The North Georgia men's basketball team held a second-half lead on Saturday evening in Memorial Hall, but Lander University erased a nine-point deficit to soar back and come away with an 80-66 victory in Peach Belt Conference action.
The Saints continue to struggle at home, falling to 3-9 overall on the season and staying winless in the Peach Belt Conference at 0-3. The Bearcats pick up their first victory in their last four tries, improving to 7-7 overall and grabbing their first win of the year in league action, moving to 1-6 in the conference.
A back and forward affair was the story of the first half as the two teams traded buckets and exchanged the lead eight times in first 20 minutes, while the score deadlocked a half-dozen times.
The Saints finally started to create some distance with six minutes remaining, going on a 5-0 run and eventually taking a six-point lead at the 4:46 mark on a layup from Keldrick Colemon.
The Bearcats clawed their way back to within a bucket on a jumper by David Pruett with 2:50 remaining, but Robb Goldsmith connected on a jumper with 46 seconds left, sending North Georgia into intermission with a five-point lead.
The Saints came out in the second half and used back-to-back buckets to take their largest lead of the game at nine points, extending the lead to 40-31 just 90 seconds into the period.
Lander answered right back with their biggest offensive spurt of the game, using a 10-0 run over a three-minute span to take the lead at 41-40. Jermal Kennedy carried the run, hitting a pair of jumpers to put the Bearcats right back into contention.
LU continued to pull away during the middle of the second half before taking a six-point lead with 12:16 remaining, capping off a 19-4 run since the opening minutes of the final stanza.
The Saints roared back and cut the Bearcat lead to just a point at 53-52 on an acrobatic layup by Clarence Tillman, but Lander had an answer once again and pulled away with an 11-3 run extend their lead to nine points.
The Bearcats led by nine points at three different times down the stretch before taking the game's first double-digit lead with 1:22 remaining as Pruett was perfect on a pair of free throws, making it a 69-59 contest.
North Georgia was forced to foul in the final minute and Lander never looked back, sinking 14 free throws in the final two minutes and taking an 80-66 victory on the road.
Calvin Liptrot tallied a game-high 23 points for Lander, going 12-for-14 from the free throw line and adding six rebounds, while Pruett tallied 20 points and Tovi Bailey notched 16. Jermal Kennedy was a rebound shy of a double-double, coming away with 11 points in 36 minutes of play.
Smith led the Saints with 20 points and finished a rebound shy of a double-double, while adding three more blocks, pushing his season total to 28, good for third in the league. Carl Taylor struggled all night from the field, but was the only other North Georgia player in double figures, finishing with 11 points and two rebounds.
The Saints will go right back to work on Monday evening, traveling to South Carolina to take on Peach Belt Conference rival USC Aiken. Tip-off against the Pacers is set for 7:30 p.m. in the Convocation Center.