A suffocating defensive effort powered Lander’s 93-47 victory over Erskine in Thursday morning’s District 50 Education Game at Finis Horne Arena.

The Bearcats forced 21 turnovers and held the Fleet to 25% shooting in front of a crowd of 697 middle school students from Brewer, Northside and Westview.

Lander (2-1) worked to overcome a slow start in the first quarter and limited Erskine (0-3) to seven points in the second.

Lander’s best defensive stretch came in the third quarter, when it held Erskine scoreless for the first seven minutes of the period. The Bearcats scored 23 consecutive points to build a 51-point lead, their largest of the game.

“I thought that was where the game just really changed,” Lander women’s basketball coach Kevin Pederson said. “We saw that defensive lineup just completely change the pace of the game out there and speed it up to our advantage.”

Those defensive stops led to several layups on the other end for Lander. The Bearcats recorded 12 steals, and the only Fleet player to reach double figures was senior center Alexis Scott, who scored 13 points.

“I think Lander can speed you up and force you to play a tempo that you don’t want to play,” Erskine coach Jeri Porter said. “We probably held onto the ball a little longer than we should have, which got us out of our rhythm and our offense. We didn’t have our best scorers handling the ball today, so it made it tough for us.”

Porter said Erskine is a young team still trying to grow and find its identity. The Fleet had an early 6-3 lead before being outscored 52-7 during a stretch from the second to third quarter.

Four Erskine freshmen saw action in the fourth quarter and were aggressive offensively. The Fleet scored 15 points in the fourth, the most they tallied in any quarter.

“Lander is a really good team and a really good test for us early on,” Porter said. “The freshmen really battled and got some rebounds and were able to get to the free-throw line. It was a great atmosphere with all the kids in here and a great experience for us to move forward on.”

Lander received steady scoring from four different Bearcats. Sarah Crews and Tabitha Dailey each scored a team-high 17 points, Amiaya Melvins scored 13 and Jessica Harris added 11.

Pederson said he wants to see more offensive consistency from his group. The Bearcats shot under 44% in the first quarter and had just a six-point lead before the second quarter outburst.

Lander is still experimenting with different lineups as it works to find that consistency.

“We’ve got to work on coming in and getting off to better starts, but it was nice to see our depth come through,” Pederson said.

Still, Lander knows it hasn’t learned much about its team in the early stages of the season. Pederson said the upcoming competition against stronger opponents should be more telling. No. 21 Lander will host No. 13 Anderson next Tuesday.

“We’ve got some new players, and I’m still looking for that lineup,” Pederson said. “What’s our best lineup going to be, what offense can they run and what defense can they handle? That’s what we’re still trying to figure out. We’ll learn a lot more about our team on Tuesday.”

Contact sports writer Wesley Dotson at 864-943-2530 or follow him on Twitter @WesleyPDotson.