GREENWOOD – The Lander men's basketball team got a double-double from Elijah Alston and held off rival Erskine 74-66 in front of 960 fans Wednesday night in the team's season debut at Horne Arena.
It was also Coach Drew Richards' home debut as the Bearcats improved to 2-1 on the season, breaking a two-game losing streak to rival Erskine.
"The crowd was great, I think [Horne Arena] can be one of the toughest places to play in the Peach Belt," said head coach Drew Richards. "Our guys fought, we made some mistakes down the stretch, but I thought our toughnes and grit persevered there."
The Fleet fell to 1-2.
Lander holds a 48-34 all-time series lead against Erskine from nearby Due West, S.C.
Alston led all scorers with 21 points, including four crucial free throws in the final minute. He was also the game's top rebounder with 11.
Former Erskine player Tyler Brevard added 10 points for the Bearcats. Deon Berrien also scored 10 points. DeShundre Rucker contributed nine points for Lander while DaJuan Moorer had a huge defensive game with five blocked shots and four steals.
Malcolm Green led Erskine with 20 points. Trent Smoot Jr. added 18 points, seven rebounds and three steals.
The Bearcats out-rebounded Erskine 40-28 and out-shot the Fleet from the field. Lander made 27 of 55 shots (49 percent) to 25 of 62 for the visitors (40 percent).
Lander made 12 of its first 15 shots from the floor (80 percent) in the opening nine minutes of the game to build an early lead and was still shooting at 60 percent at halftime.
Alston's third 3 of the game tied it at 11 with 16:46 to go in the first half. Justin Holliday found Rucker inside for an open dunk, giving Lander a 20-19 lead with 13:09 left.
After Jaywaun Washington's breakaway dunk pulled the Flying Fleet within 25-24 with 11:13 to go, the Bearcats went on a 13-1 run over the next four minutes to build a 38-25 advantage.
Brevard started the run with a three-point play while TJ Knight came off the bench and scored twice inside to complete the rally. Lander led by as many as 15, 45-30, when Rucker banked a long jump shot at the four-minute mark.
But Erskine scored nine unanswered points to pull within 45-39. Green started the run with a dunk off a long pass from Andrew Weir, Smoot and Weir scored inside, and then Smoot completed the rally with a 3 from the right corner.
The Bearcats were up 46-39 at halftime. Lander made 18 of 30 shots in the opening half (60 percent).
Each team traded a pair of baskets to start the second half before Alston's fourth 3 of the night gave Lander its first double-digit lead of the second half at 53-43.
Ryan Jolly's basket pushed the Bearcat lead to 57-43 at the 13-minute mark. But Green's driving basket pulled Erskine within 63-56 with 9:25 to go.
Carson Morton's layup cut the Fleet's deficit to just 64-59 with 8:31 left. But it would be several minutes before Erskine would score again.
Holliday's two free throws extended Lander's lead to 70-59 at the six-minute mark.
Jordan Watson spun inside for a layup, pulling the Fleet within 70-61 with 3:17 left and ending the team's five-minute scoring drought. Erskine went 0 for 7 from the floor and 0 for 4 from the line during that stretch.
Smoot's 3 from the right side pulled the Fleet within 70-66 with 1:26 to go.
Erskine collected a turnover with just under a minute to go and had a chance to make it a one-possession game. But the Fleet missed a shot and Lander's Jolly saved the rebound to Alston, who was fouled and hit a pair of free throws.
Alston hit two more free throws to close out the scoring.
#cLawsUp | @LanderMBB