GREENEVILLE, Tenn. --- Tusculum University nearly erased an 11-point deficit in the final five minutes, but came up just short as Belmont Abbey College held on for a 65-63 win in non-conference men's basketball action Saturday at Pioneer Arena.
Donovan Donaldson helped spark the Tusculum comeback as he led the Pioneers with 18 points, including a three-pointer with 14.2 seconds remaining which brought the Pioneers within two points. Donaldson went 4-for-7 from three-point range in the game.
Cam King scored a season-high 11 points and grabbed eight rebounds in 27 minutes off the bench for the Pioneers (4-7), who shot 37.7 percent (23-for-61) from the field as a team and connected on just 10-of-17 at the free-throw line.
DeQuan Abrom paced the Crusaders (10-3) with 18 points and Sean Halloran added 12 points and a team-high seven rebounds. However, Belmont Abbey was outrebounded 42-28 by Tusculum and allowed the Pioneers to score 17 second-chance points on 20 offensive rebounds.
Tusculum scored the game's first four points on a dunk by Caleb Hodnett and a jumper by Brandon Mitchell, but Abrom scored eight consecutive points for Belmont Abbey to help the Crusaders to an 8-4 lead with 5 1/2 minutes gone in the first half.
Abrom would eventually score the first 10 points for Belmont Abbey, before a three-pointer by LJ McCoy gave the Crusaders the lead for good at 13-10 with 10:47 left in the opening half. Belmont Abbey used an 11-0 run to expand its lead to 26-14 on a three-point play by Romeao Ferguson with 6:25 to go in the half.
The Crusaders led 32-23 at halftime behind 10 points from Abrom along with seven points and four rebounds by Halloran. Belmont Abbey shot 46.2 percent (12-for-26) from the field in the first half and 3-for-12 from three-point range. Donaldson led Tusculum with 11 points in the half while King had six points, but the Pioneers hit just 10-for-30 (33.3 percent) from the floor and equaled the Crusaders from long range at 3-for-12.
Belmont Abbey continued to lead 37-26 following a three-pointer by Ben Ferguson with 17:58 to play, but Tusculum responded with eight straight points on three-pointers by Hodnett and Dillon Smith and two foul shots by Donaldson which cut the margin to 37-34 with 15:49 left. The Crusaders then ran off eight points in a row as John Bowen and Brayden Gault his consecutive threes to help Belmont Abbey move in front 45-34 with 12:21 to go.
The Belmont Abbey lead was 63-52 with 4:37 left following two free throws by Abrom, but the Crusaders would go scoreless for the next 3 1/2 minutes as the Pioneers began their comeback on a three-point play by Trenton Gibson with 4:14 to play. A free throw by Tariq Jenkins with 3:46 left and a dunk by King with 2:54 to play pulled Tusculum within 63-58.
After an offensive foul, Brandon Mitchell scored on a putback with 2:04 left to bring Tusculum within 63-60. Tusculum went for the tie on its next possession, but misfired and Abrom scored on a dunk for a 65-60 Belmont Abbey lead with just over a minute left. Tusculum still trailed by five with under 30 seconds left, but got the ball back on a missed shot.
After Donaldson's three-pointer cut the Belmont Abbey lead to 65-63, Tusculum got the ball back as Jenkins tipped the ball away from Abrom and was fouled on a drive with 1.4 seconds left. Jenkins missed the first attempt and crossed the line early on the second try, giving the Crusaders the ball back.
On the final play, the Crusaders' Ben Ferguson attempted a pass downcourt which was intercepted by King and handed off to Donaldson, whose heave from a step inside midcourt was just off target as time expired.
Mitchell finished with eight points and matched his season high with eight rebounds for the Pioneers, while Hodnett had nine points and six rebounds in 22 minutes of action. As a team, Tusculum turned the ball over 14 times which Belmont Abbey turned into 11 points.
For the Crusaders, Romeao Ferguson had seven points, four rebounds, four assists and five steals in 32 minutes, while McCoy had nine points and Bowen added seven off the bench. Both teams saw production from their reserves, with the Tusculum subs outscoring Belmont Abbey's by a 37-23 margin.
Tusculum finished its non-conference schedule with a 4-4 record, and will resume action on Saturday, January 5 at Lenoir-Rhyne beginning at 4 p.m.