NEWBERRY, S.C. - The Newberry College Indians began the 2007-08 season in fine fashion, as they defeated the Lander University Bearcats, 67-59, in Eleazer Arena on Thursday night. Clemente Martin led the Indians with 20 points and 10 rebounds to help give Newberry head coach Jeremy Luther his first win as head coach.
Newberry (1-0) never trailed after the 13:23 mark of the first half, and led by as many as 14 points in the opening stanza. Lander (0-1) was hampered by shooting 0-for-10 from three-point range in the first half and only 4-of-24 in the game.
Behind Martin's double-double performance, the Indians had two other players in double-digits. Vytautas Valiulis (Vilnius, Lithuania) scored 15 points and had a team-high three assists, while Stephane Bakinde (Yaounde, Cameroon) notched 12 points. Kendrick Johnson (Orangeburg, S.C.) played well defensively, blocking four Bearcat shots.
The teams struggled to pull away from one another until the midway point in the first half, when the Indians went on a 9-0 run following the media timeout. Fast break layups by Matt Alexander (Atlanta, Ga.) and Martin (Freeport, Bahamas) were followed by a pair of free throws from Bakinde to extend the Newberry advantage to 20-11. Bakinde punctuated the run with a dunk, giving Newberry the 12-point lead.
Though Newberry led by as many as 14 late in the period, Lander fought back to within six at the break. The Indians were unable to connect in the final 3:09 of the half. A bucket by Travis Allison and a dunk from Scottie Smith narrowed the deficit to 30-24 at halftime.
Smith tied for the team lead in points with Houston Wright, as the pair notched 14 points apiece. Wright was Lander's leading rebounder with nine. Ford Lawrence also added 12 points.
Both teams battled well in the second period, but one key stretch seemed to keep momentum in Newberry's favor. With just under six minutes to play, Johnson blocked a jumpre by Dane Sparrow, which was rebounded by Alexander. The junior quickly turned defense into offense as he connected with Martin on a fast break alley-oop to give Newberry a 57-45 lead.
Although the Bearcats cut the lead to as few as five points down the stretch, the Indians hit three free throws in the final seconds to seal the victory.
The win is not only the first of the Jeremy Luther era, but it is only Newberry's second win over Lander since 1991-92, when the Indians joined the NCAA. The two sides will meet again at Finis Horne Arena in Greenwood on December 8.
Newberry next plays on Saturday, when the Indians host North Georgia College and State University at 4 p.m. Lander hosts Emmanuel College on Saturday at 4 p.m.