Johnson
LU

AIKEN, S.C. -- Lander is returning to the third round for the third year in a row as Brittni Johnson's 24 points led the fourth-seeded Lady Bearcats to a 61-55 victory against top-seed USC-Aiken in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Lander improved to 23-7 and will meet third seed Wingate (24-7) on Monday.

Wingate beat defending national champion Clayton State on a last-second shot, 64-63, in the first semifinal Saturday. Lander lost to Wingate 70-67 in the Clayton State Tournament in December.

The Lady Bearcats, down by as many as 11 points early in the second half, handed Aiken its first home loss of the season as the Lady Pacers finish 27-4.

Aiken had beaten Lander 65-62 and 57-53 in the regular season. But in another close game, the Lady Bearcats made the big plays down the stretch this time.

Johnson played the entire 40 minutes, scoring 24 points including four of nine from 3-point range while adding six steals. She made a game-clinching 3-pointer in the final seconds.

Jasmine Judge, the Peach Belt Conference's all-time career 3-point shooter, made four crucial 3s and finished with 12 points for Lander. She made the go-ahead 3 with just a minute left.

Mukia Myrick added eight points and five assists while Lady Bearcats teammate Kaylyn Small had eight points and 13 rebounds. Precious Elkins added six points and nine rebounds, after posting 29 points and 12 rebounds in a first-round win against Limestone on Friday.

Kayla Harris led USC Aiken with 20 points, Brittany Hill added 10 points, and Lindsay Sundberg paced the Pacers with 10 rebounds.

Lander made 23 of 52 shots from the floor (44 percent), five of six free throws and 10 of 23 from behind the arc (43 percent).

Aiken hit 20 of 51 shots (39 percent), 11 of 12 free throws and four of 10 from 3-point range (40 percent). The Pacers were only six of 24 from the floor after halftime.

The Lady Bearcats had a 32-29 edge on the boards.

Lander took its first lead of the second half when Elkins grabbed an offensive rebound and hit a jump shot, making it 53-51 with 5:11 left.

Aiken's Harris scored in the paint to tie it at 53-all with 3:58 to go. But in the next two-plus minutes, the Pacers missed two shots, the Lady Bearcats committed two turnovers, Small missed a layup for Lander, and Harris missed a close-up shot for Aiken.

Finally, Myrick, in the lane, found Judge open from the left side and she hit a 3-pointer giving the Lady Bearcats a 56-53 lead with 1:28 left.

Hannah DeGraffinreed hit two free throws to pull Aiken within 56-55 with 1:13 left. On the ensuing possession, Lander let the shot clock wind down and was down to four seconds when the Pacers committed a foul. The Lady Bearcats took advantage of the fresh possession and Johnson hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key for a 59-55 lead with 21 seconds left.

After Aiken's Hill missed a fast-break layup, Small grabbed the rebound and got a pass to Johnson who quickly drove to the basket and drew an intentional foul under the goal. She made both free throws to clinch the win.

Johnson had three steals and layups in the game's first four minutes, staking Lander to a 10-4 advantage. The Lady Bearcats twice built their lead to nine, 13-4 on Myrick's 3-pointer and 15-6 on Small's layup at the 14-minute mark.

But Aiken used a 9-1 run to pull within 16-15, and Sundberg's 3-pointer tied the game at 20-all with 9:31 to go.

The Lady Pacers took their first lead of the game, 24-22, when Harris made two free throws at the seven-minute mark.

The rest of the first half was back-and-forth with Johnson twice hitting go-ahead 3s, giving Lander leads of 27-24 and 32-31. Judge's trey put the Lady Bearcats up 35-33 with two minutes left.

But Hill made a basket and two free throws in the final minute-plus of the first half, giving Aiken a 37-35 lead at the break.

The first half was so even that each team went 14-for-27 from the floor with Lander having a 14-13 edge on the boards.

The Lady Bearcats missed their first eight shots of the second half and fell behind by double figures, 46-35, before finally scoring on Small's put-back at the 14:01 mark. Judge's long 3-pointer pulled Lander within 46-40 with 13:36 left.

Elkins grabbed an offensive rebound and laid it in, closing the Lady Bearcats within 46-42 with 11:42 to go.

DeGraffinreed's first points of the game ended Lander's 7-0 run, giving Aiken a 48-42 lead at the halfway point of the second half.

But Judge hit a long 3 and the Lady Bearcats were within a possession, 48-45, at the 9:24 mark. Then Johnson hit a trey, tying it at 48-all just under the nine-minute mark.

Mia Antoine's two free throws and one by Harris gave Aiken the lead back at 51-48. The Pacers were trying to extend their lead when Small blocked an Aiken, Johnson drove aggressively toward the other end and passed the ball out to Myrick, who hit a game-tying 3, and it was 51-all with 6:27 to go.