First-half surge lifts Eagles over Bobcats in season-opener

JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. --- The Carson-Newman College women's basketball team closed the first half with a 22-6 run, and held off a late charge by Lees-McRae College en route to a 95-72 victory on the first night of the SAC/Conference Carolinas Challenge in Holt Fieldhouse.

Carson-Newman (1-0) shot 41.9 percent from the field on the night, including a 42.9 percent clip in the first half, while holding Lees-McRae (0-1) to a field goal percentage of 37.3 percent. The Eagles won the battle on the glass by a 54-32 margin, including a 25-12 advantage on the offensive boards, while forcing 16 Bobcat turnovers.

Lauren Lewis (Concord, N.C.) paced the Bobcats with 18 points on 5-of-13 shooting, including four three-pointers, as Layana De Souza (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) added 14 markers and a team-high eight rebounds. Freshman Niroska Perez (Asheville, N.C.) netted 12 points in her collegiate debut, as Icey Patterson (Seneca, S.C.) posted nine markers, two assists and a game-high three steals. Kerri Belcher (Roanoke, Va.) and Tayler Collins (Fayetteville, N.C.) each pulled down six rebounds.

Tatum Burstrom came off the bench and poured in a game-high 23 points for the Eagles, connecting on 7-of-10 shots from beyond the arc, as Taylor Peterson added a double-double with 15 markers and a contest-best 10 rebounds. Kaitlyn Cupples chipped in 10 points, as Jai Jai McLaughlin dished out a game-high eight assists.

The Eagles jumped out to an early 5-2 lead before the Bobcats responded, launching a 9-4 run to take an 11-9 lead following a jumper by Patterson at the 13:43 mark. Carson-Newman would answer with a 10-3 spurt, reclaiming the advantage at 19-14 with 8:55 to go on a jumper by McLaughlin.

After the Bobcats closed the gap to 23-19 with a pair of freebies from Patterson, Carson-Newman countered with a 22-6 surge, taking a 45-25 lead into the intermission following a late triple by Burnstrom.

Lees-McRae kept pace with the Eagles throughout the second half, cutting the margin to 70-55 on a layup by Natalija Cakarevic (Belgrade, Serbia) with 9:29 left on the clock. The Bobcats would edge the Eagles by a 50-47 margin over the balance of the second half, finishing strong with a 12-6 run over the last five minutes as the Bobcats shot 48 percent from the floor over the final 20 minutes.

Lees-McRae returns to the court on Sunday when the Bobcats take on Lenoir-Rhyne University at 1 p.m. on the second and final day of the SAC/Conference Carolinas Challenge.

- LMC -