DAHLONEGA, Ga. (Lander University) – The Lander Bearcats have punched their ticket to the NCAA Southeast Regional Championship Game, surviving a scoring drought in the fourth quarter to outlast Georgia Southwestern 65-62 in a regional semifinal Saturday afternoon at the UNG Convocation Center.

Second-seeded Lander improved to 24-4 and will face either top seed North Georgia or fifth seed Carson-Newman for the Southeast Regional championship Monday at 7 p.m. at the Convocation Center. 

Monday’s winner advances to the national Elite Eight to be played in Birmingham, Ala. The Bearcats beat North Georgia in the Southeast Regional final last year before finally losing in the national semifinals.

The third-seeded Hurricanes saw their season end at 23-7.

Lander led 61-50 with 7:50 remaining in the fourth quarter on a basket by Aniaya Jester but didn’t make another shot from the field for the rest of the game, missing its last nine shots from the floor. 

Makaila Cange hit three of four free throws inside the two-minute mark while Miriam Recarte had a crucial steal and also made a free throw as Lander held on thanks to tough defense.

Jester led the Bearcats with 20 points, including eight points during a crucial 11-0 run that started late in the third quarter to break a 50-all tie.

Recarte added 12 points while leading Lander with nine rebounds. Cange added 12 points and seven boards.

Ava Jones paced Georgia Southwestern with 21 points, Jacquelyn Levay scored 13 points and Kayla Langley added 11 points. Dailyn Craig scored eight points while leading the Hurricanes with 13 rebounds.

The Bearcats made only two of 19 shots from 3-point range but did good work on the inside, collecting 20 second-chance points. They grabbed 18 offensive rebounds.

Lander trailed 8-6 when Recarte scored seven consecutive points, giving the Bearcats a 13-8 lead at the four-minute mark of the opening quarter. The senior hit a 3-pointer from the right wing, swished a baseline jumper from the right side, then tipped a Georgia Southwestern interior pass to Amiaya Melvins for a steal and then took a pass from Melvins for a layup.

Lander trailed again 19-17 when Vashae Rideout’s offensive rebound and put-back tied it going into the second quarter.

Carley Culberson’s put-back gave the Bearcats a 24-21 advantage with 7:22 left in the half. 

After Jones hit a 3-pointer to tie it at 30-all with 3:20 left – the fifth tie of the game – Lander closed the half with a 6-2 run. Jakiyah Parker scored on a put-back, Jester hit a jumper just inside the free-throw line, and Parker scored again on a drive to the bucket.

After sitting out more than 15 of the first 20 minutes of the game due to foul trouble, Cange made an immediate impact in the third period. She converted a layup into a three-point play and scored inside again, giving the Bearcats a 41-36 lead. Her third basket of the quarter upped the Lander advantage to 45-38 with 6:38 left.

Lander got yet another offensive rebound put-back as Melvins converted a three-point play for a 50-42 advantage with 4:42 to go.

Levay’s 3-pointer completed an 8-0 Hurricanes run, tying it at 50-all with 1:15 left in the third.

Jester converted three-point plays on consecutive possessions, sending the Bearcats into the final quarter with a 56-50 lead. She hit a pull-up jumper from 10 feet out as she was knocked down for the first three-point play and added a driving layup with contact off a turnover.

Sarah Crews hit a transition 3-pointer from the right wing, giving Lander its largest lead of the game at 59-50 with just under nine minutes to go.

Jester took a handoff from Cange at the free-throw line and sped around a defender for a layup, handing the Bearcats their first double-digit advantage at 61-50 with 7:50 left. Unbelievably, that would be Lander’s last made field goal of the game.

The Blue and Gold went scoreless for five minutes and 50 seconds, missing eight consecutive shots. But Georgia Southwestern made up ground slowly, pulling within 61-57 with 2:27 to go on Langley’s layup.

Cange was fouled on an offensive rebound and made one of two free throws with two minutes left for a 62-57 lead, breaking the Bearcat scoreless stretch. Jones scored a few seconds later to cut the Hurricane deficit to 62-59 at 1:51.

Cange was fouled immediately after taking the inbounds pass and made two free throws, making it 64-59 with 1:48 to go. Levay’s 3-pointer pulled Georgia Southwestern within 64-62 with 1:34 left.

Lander missed two free throws with 1:08 on the clock, giving the Hurricanes a chance to tie or take the lead. But Georgia Southwestern turned the ball over on a traveling call. And then the Bearcats wound the clock down but Jones blocked a shot with 26 seconds left, with the ball recovered by Levay.

Georgia Southwestern had a second chance to tie or take the lead, but Recarte intercepted a pass in the paint and was fouled with 12 seconds to go. She missed the first free throw but made the second for a 65-62 advantage. 

Georgia Southwestern needed a 3-pointer to possibly send the game into overtime. Jones launched a 3-pointer from NBA range that hit the front of the rim with five seconds left. Craig got the offensive rebound and dribbled to the right corner but was defended well and threw up a prayer while falling down. The ball fell several feet short at the buzzer and Lander survived.