NEWBERRY, S.C. --- Senior Rob Valentine scored 33 points in his final game at Eleazer Arena in leading Newberry to a 91-81 South Atlantic Conference victory over Tusculum Saturday afternoon.
The Wolves (15-13, 9-11 SAC) record their third straight win and avenge last month's lost to the Pioneers. Newberry finishes in a three-way tie for fifth place in the league standings and will be at Carson-Newman this Wednesday for a SAC Quarterfinal match-up. Tusculum ends its season at 6-21 overall and 4-16 in SAC play to finish 10th in the league.
Valentine came up one-point shy of a career-high, which he set earlier this season against Bob Jones University. He went 11-of-19 from the floor, including 7-of-13 from three-point territory. Teammate Max Miller poured in 15 points off the bench as he went 6-of-6 from the floor and 3-of-3 from the free throw line to go along with his team-high seven rebounds.
Tusculum junior Donovan Donaldson led the Pioneers with his 20 points and six assists, while rookie Dashaunte Smith scored a season-best 18 points. Freshman forward Brandon Mitchell tallied a double-double with 11 points and a game-high 12 rebounds. He also posted five blocked shots which are tied for the ninth most in school history.
The opening half was a close contest as neither team lead more than six as the Wolves took a 36-35 lead into the locker room. Newberry led 17-11 in the opening 3:25. The Wolves were up 24-19 at the 10 minute mark following a pair of James Stepp free throws. TC responded with a 12-2 run to take its largest lead of the contest at 31-26 with 5:26 left in the period following a Mitchell three-pointer and a Dustin Day bucket. The Wolves closed out the half with a 10-4 spurt to take the one-point advantage at the break.
Valentine scored 11 points in the opening period, while Mitchell had his double-double in the first 20 minutes as he tallied 11 points and 10 boards at the intermission.
In the second half, Newberry went on a 14-5 run to take a 52-43 lead with 14:55 remaining after a Quaman Burton triple. The Wolves extended the lead to 56-46 with 13:52 to go before the Pioneers rattled off a 14-2 run which included a pair of three-pointers from Hartle, one from Smith a three-point by Donaldson and a Hunter Parris layup as Tusculum took a 60-58 lead with 11:22 remaining.
Newberry answered that run with one of their own as the Wolves opened up an 18-5 spurt, which was capped off by a Xavier Hill trifecta with eight minutes left to take a 76-65 lead.
The Pioneers trimmed the deficit to six at 81-75 with 5:08 left after a Donaldson three-pointer. But six straight points over the next 65 seconds pushed the lead to a game-high dozen at 87-75.
Tusculum followed with a Smith dunk and a Tyree layup to cut the Newberry lead to single-digits at 87-79 with 2:38 left. But that would be as close as the Pioneers would come as the Wolves closed out the game with a 5-2 run to split the season series.
Tusculum out-shot (47.8%-43.5%) and out-rebounded (39-36) Newberry, but the Wolves forced 19 turnovers, resulting into 19 points for the home team, while the Pioneers scored five points off of Newberry's nine turnovers. The Wolves also held a lofty edge at the free throw line, going 19-of-24 for 79.2 percent while the Pioneers made only seven trips to the foul line (4-of-7) for 57.1 percent.
Tusculum established a pair of school single-season records finishing the year with 317 made three-pointers on a season-high 881 attempts. TC went 13-of-31 from beyond the arc at Newberry for 41.9 percent. The Pioneers' .741 free throw percentage this year was the fifth highest in program history while its 104 blocked shots this year were third highest by a Pioneer squad. Mitchell finished the season with 36 blocked shots, tied for the ninth-most in Tusculum history.