GREENEVILLE, Tenn. --- Donovan Donaldson scored the go-ahead basket with 36.5 seconds remaining as Tusculum University snapped a 24-game losing streak to Lincoln Memorial University with a 78-76 victory in South Atlantic Conference men's basketball action Wednesday night at Pioneer Arena.
Donaldson scored 20 of his game-high 27 points in the second half, including six straight field goals at one point, as the Pioneers (15-12, 11-8 SAC) won their fifth straight game and beat the Railsplitters (20-7, 14-5 SAC) for the first time since a 74-71 win on Feb. 4, 2009. Trenton Gibson added 15 points and seven rebounds for the Pioneers, who moved into a tie for fifth place in the league standings with Lenoir-Rhyne heading into the regular-season finale on Saturday at home against Wingate.
Cornelius Taylor led LMU with 24 points on 6-for-8 shooting from three-point range for the Railsplitters, including seven straight points during a 9-0 run that gave the Railsplitters its final lead at 71-69 with 4:16 to go. Courvoisier McCauley had 16 points as LMU placed four players in double figures and shot 47.3 percent (26-for-55) from the field, but were unable to contain the Pioneers on the offensive glass as Tusculum grabbed 16 offensive rebounds.
Donaldson broke the 10th and final tie of the game as his layup with 36.5 to go gave Tusculum a 76-74 lead, and Taylor missed a three-pointer with 15.2 remaining with Tusculum grabbing the rebound on a held ball. Donaldson sank two foul shots with 12.6 seconds to go for a 78-74 Pioneer lead, but Lincoln Memorial's Anthony Brown made a pair of free throws with 6.1 seconds left to cut the Tusculum lead to 78-76.
Donaldson, who surpassed the 20-point mark for the eighth time this season, was fouled on the inbounds attempt and missed a pair at the line, but Taylor lost the ball while driving through the lane as time expired as the Pioneers ended their 10-year drought to Railsplitters. Lincoln Memorial entered Wednesday's game ranked fifth in the latest NCAA Division II Southeast Region rankings.
Neither team led by more than eight points, with Lincoln Memorial's largest lead at 42-34 with 2:03 left in the first half. Both teams were stingy with the basketball, with the Pioneers matching their season low with six turnovers and the Railsplitters turning the ball over seven times. Tusculum has had fewer than 10 turnovers in each of its last three games and six times this season.
Tusculum took its first lead at 6-5 on a basket by Caleb Hodnett with 17:31 left in the first half, and the teams traded the lead seven times over the next nine minutes. Other than a brief 32-31 lead on a foul shot by Gibson with 4:33 left in the first half, the Pioneers trailed for the final nine minutes and carried a 44-38 lead into halftime.
Taylor shot 5-for-5 from three-point range in the first half and led all players with 17 points, while McCauley had 14 of his 16 points in the opening 20 minutes. LMU shot 44.4 percent (12-for-27) from the field as a team but went 9-for-15 from three-point range and 11-for-12 at the foul line. Tusculum was led in the first half by Gibson with 12 points, as the Pioneers shot an even 50 percent (16-for-32) but hit just two three-pointers and went 4-for-6 at the foul line.
The Pioneers tied the game early in the second half as a three-pointer by Jackie Davis and a three-point play by Tariq Jenkins knotted the score at 44-44 with 18:20 to go. LMU built its lead back up to seven points behind Steven Perriere, who scored six points during a surge that gave the Railsplitters a 56-49 lead with 14:20 to go.
A three-pointer by Dillon Smith pulled the Pioneers back within 56-52 with 13:49 left, at which time Donaldson took over. He hit a jumper and a layup to tie the game at 56-56, then hit another basket to give the Pioneers a 59-58 lead with 11:38 left. Donaldson then drilled back-to-back three-pointers and followed up with another field goal as he scored 14 points during a 15-6 Tusculum run, giving the Pioneers a 69-62 lead with 8:06 left.
LMU came right back with nine straight points, the final seven coming from Taylor to give the Railsplitters a 71-69 lead with 4:16 remaining. A three-pointer by Gibson pushed the Pioneers back ahead 72-71 with 3:41 to go, and a free throw by Kamaran Calhoun tied the game at 72-all with 3:23 on the clock. The teams would go scoreless for nearly two minutes until Donaldson sank two foul shots with 1:25 remaining for a 74-72 Tusculum lead, but Brown responded on a layup to tie the game with 1:05 left and set up the finish.
Brown and Perriere each finished with 12 points off the bench for the Railsplitters, whose bench outscored Tusculum's by a 27-18 margin. Calhoun had seven points, shared the team lead in rebounds with Perriere with five and had a team-high four assists to go along with a pair of blocked shots.
Smith hit a pair of three-pointers and scored eight points off the Tusculum bench, with Brandon Mitchell chipping in with six points and a game-high eight rebounds in 24 minutes. Jenkins contributed eight points and Hodnett was held to just five points in 25 minutes, but added six rebounds and two blocked shots.
Tusculum finished the game shooting 46.9 percent (30-for-64) from the field and 8-for-28 from three-point range after going 6-for-16 in the second half. The Pioneers converted just 6-for-11 at the foul line in the second half, while the Railsplitters struggled to a 3-for-8 performance after intermission.
The Pioneers will wrap up the regular season at home on Saturday at 4 p.m. against Wingate at Pioneer Arena. Tusculum beat Wingate 80-77 in overtime on the road on Jan. 19.