Mercer, Samford advance to SoCon semifinals
Courtesy: Southern Conference
Release: 03/01/2018
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Mercer's Kahlia Lawrence
Courtesy: Todd Drexler

No. 1 Mercer 75, No. 8 Western Carolina 44

ASHEVILLE, N.C. The top-seeded Mercer Bears got March Madness off to a strong start with a 75-44 win over No. 8 seed Western Carolina on Thursday in the quarterfinals of the Southern Conference Women's Basketball Championship presented by General Shale at the U.S. Cellular Center. The victory extends their win streak to 25 games.

SoCon Player of the Year Kahlia Lawrence scored 23 to lead the 25th-ranked Bears. KeKe Calloway and Amanda Thompson added 18 and 12 points, respectively. Nikki Johnson had 17 points to pace the Catamounts.

The Bears broke open a close game late in the first quarter. Leading 14-11, Lawrence's 3-pointer kickstarted a 13-3 run that pushed the lead to 27-14 after Linnea Rosendal's jumper mid-way through the second.

Johnson answered with a 3 and the Cats got within nine, 27-18, on JonTay Mitchem's free throw. Mercer took control. A 20-2 spurt over the next 10 minutes made it 47-20 Bears. It got no closer than 21 the rest of the way.

The Bears' 28 wins are one shy of the school record of 29 set in 1979-80.

Western Carolina
Senior Sherae Bonner finished her career with 142 blocks after two Thursday. That's one short of the Catamounts record held by Shauna Terry (2011-14).

3stats to know...
- Mercer held a +22 turnover margin, forcing 24 while giving up just two. That led to a 28-0 advantage in points off turnovers.

- Western's Nikki Johnson scored 17 of the Catamounts' 44 points, making 50 percent overall (6-for-12) and from 3-point range (4-for-8). The rest of the squad shot 33.3 percent (10-for-30) from the floor and 11.1 percent (1-for-9) beyond the arc.
- The Bears had a 19:2 assist-to-turnover ratio. The two turnovers are the fewest this season, besting four in home wins over Winthrop and Chattanooga.

No. 5 Samford 59, No. 4 Furman 58

ASHEVILLE, N.C. The fifth-seeded Samford Bulldogs and No. 4 Furman Paladins went to the final buzzer in Samford's 59-58 win in the quarterfinals of the Southern Conference Women's Basketball Championship presented by General Shale on Thursday at the U.S. Cellular Center. The Bulldogs did it in dramatic fashion.

Furman held a one-point lead, 58-57, heading into the minute. With the ball, the Paladins worked the shot clock. Stephania Oramas' jumper was off the mark and the battle for the rebound went Samford's way as the ball went out of bounds.

The Bulldogs turn on offense saw a quicker possession. Shauntai Battle's shot was blocked by Kaitlyn Duncan, but Hannah Nichols grabbed the rebound and her putback gave Samford the lead with 23.8 left.

Timeout Furman. Timeout Samford. The Paladins went to work. They got the ball inside to Celena Taborn. The Bulldogs doubled the post. Taborn pivoted left for her shot, but it was right into Samantha Fitzgerald, who had just subbed into the game.

There were just 2.3 seconds left and many fouls to go to get to the bonus. The Paladins recorded three quickly, sending Nichols to the free-throw line with 0.7 remaining. She missed both but the officials' review of DeAnneisha Jackson's rebound ruled timeout did not occur before time ran out.

Olivia Crozier led all scorers with 17 for the victorious Bulldogs. Nichols added 13 points and 10 rebounds. Cierra Carter paced the Paladins with 16, while Taborn chipped in 15 points, six rebounds and four blocks.

Samford: 16-14
Furman: 17-13

Senior Hannah Nichols' 10 boards mark the ninth time this season she's reached double figures on the glass. Her 557 career rebounds rank fifth all-time at Samford.

Senior Cierra Carter finishes her career 10th on the Paladins' all-time scoring list with 1,364 points. That trails No. 9 Brittany Hodges (1,418) by 54 points. She's the fourth Furman student-athlete this decade to enter the top 10, joining No. 5 Whitney Bunn (1,538), No. 6 Holli Wilkins (1,520) and Hodges.

3 stats to know ...
- Samford grabbed 10 second-half offensive rebounds for 12 second-chance points, none bigger than Nichols' with 23.8 to play. The Bulldogs ranked last in the league in offensive rebound percentage (.211) this season.
- Furman rallied from a seven-point halftime deficit (30-23), limiting the Bulldogs to 40 percent shooting (12-for-30) in the second 20 and 31.3 percent (5-for-16) in the final quarter.
- The Bulldogs held a +7 rebounding margin, out-boarding Furman 35-28. The Paladins entered the tournament as the SoCon's top rebounding group (+5.2), while Samford was last (-5.6).

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