COLUMBUS, Ga. - Georgia Southwestern State University, the second seed out of the West Division, rallied late to upend Lander University, the third seed out of the East Division, 74-70 in the Peach Belt Conference Tournament Quarterfinals on Friday evening at the Frank G. Lumpkin Jr. Center.
With the Hurricanes (20-9) taking a late lead on a free throw by Alan Arnett, 69-68, with 1:03 remaining, Lander's Jareal Smith committed two costly turnovers in the final minute and the Hurricanes made five of six free throws to clinch the victory over the upset-minded Bearcats (17-12).
Southwestern reaches the 20-win milestone for the second time in four years and matches a program-high for wins in a season since joining the NCAA in 2006-07. It was also the program's first postseason victory at a neutral site in five attempts. The Hurricanes hosted Clayton State in the quarterfinals of the 2010-11 PBC Tournament and defeated the Lakers, 87-68, for their other NCAA era postseason win.
Jamon Hawkins scored nine of the first 13 points of the game on Friday for the Hurricanes, helping Southwestern build a 13-5 lead with 11:40 to go in the first half. A dunk from Arnett made it a 15-8 advantage for GSW with just under 10 minutes to go until halftime, but Lander embarked on a 9-1 run over the next four minutes, taking a 17-16 lead on a 16-footer from Michael Panaggio with 5:36 left in the first half.
The two teams would trade the lead five times over the next four minutes, with Lander taking a 32-29 lead with 1:27 left as Panaggio hit two free throws on a technical foul issued to GSW head coach Mike Leeder and one free throw made by Dermaine Smith.
Hawkins led all scorers in the first half by hitting 7 of 9 shots from the floor, including 3 of 4 from beyond the arc en route to 18 points at the break. Panaggio led the Bearcats with 11 points after 20 minutes of play, while Smith had 10.
Just 30 seconds into the second stanza, a layup by Daryl Davis brought the Hurricanes to within one, 36-35, but a quick 7-0 run by the Bearcats over the next three minutes gave Lander its largest lead of the game, 43-35, with 16:28 remaining.
Lander maintained that lead throughout the majority of the second half, but the Hurricanes chipped away at the advantage, closing to within two points, 65-63, on a three-pointer by Hawkins with 3:45 left - his first points of the second half and only his second shot attempt after halftime.
After two free throws from the Bearcats' Dermaine Smith, Hawkins hit another three to make it a one-point game 67-66, with 2:35 left. Jareal Smith made one of two free throws, but a small floater in the lane by Arnett tied the game up at 68-all with 1:42 remaining. Arnett then made one of two free throws with 1:03 left to put the Hurricanes in front, 69-68, setting the stage for the last minute drama.
Hawkins led all scorers in the contest, hitting 9 of 12 shots from the floor and 5 of 6 from long range for 26 points. Davis had 17 points and eight rebounds before fouling out with 4:15 remaining in the game. Arnett added 16 points as well.
Lander was led by Dermaine Smith's 21 points on 6 of 11 shooting from the floor and 9 of 13 from the free throw line, while Panaggio added 17 points and Jareal Smith chipped in 10 points.
The Bearcats shot 39.2 percent from the floor (20 of 51) but struggled from long range, hitting just 2 of 14 from beyond the arc (14.3 percent) and just 68.3 percent from the free throw line (28 of 41).
Aided by a 59.1 percent effort over the final 20 minutes, GSW finished the game at exactly 50 percent from the field (26 of 52) and nailed 5 of 11 from long range for 45.5 percent, while also hitting 17 of 23 free throws for 73.9 percent.
Southwestern advances to face No. 7 USC Aiken, the top seed in the East Divison, at 8:00 p.m. Saturday in the PBC Tournament Semifinals.
Article contributions provided by the Peach Belt Conference