GREENEVILLE, Tenn. --- Five players scored in double figures as the Tusculum women's basketball team opened its season with an 89-71 victory over Converse in the South Atlantic Conference/Conference Carolinas Challenge Friday afternoon at Pioneer Arena.
Lovely Locklear scored a team-high 16 points, Kasey Johnson had 15 points and nine rebounds and Mia Long added 15 points and six steals for the Pioneers (1-0), who outrebounded the Valkyries (0-1) by a 57-38 margin and forced Converse into 31 turnovers in the game. The 89 points were the most in a game for the Pioneers since a 91-70 win at Mars Hill on Jan. 21, 2012 and were the most in a season opener since a 96-72 victory against Converse on Nov. 15, 2008.
Callie Patterson added 12 points and matched her career high with eight rebounds, Sydney Wilson contributed 11 points and freshman Maddie Sutton tallied nine points and 13 rebounds in her collegiate debut as Tusculum led from start to finish, turning 31 offensive rebounds into 32 points.
Tusculum went 31-for-46 from the foul line in the game, the most free-throw attempts for the Pioneers in a game since going to the line 52 times in the 2010 NCAA Division II Southeast Region semifinals against Francis Marion. The 31 made free throws marked the first time that the Pioneers have made at least 30 foul shots in a game since Jan. 5, 2011 against Lincoln Memorial.
On the defensive end, the Pioneers recorded 22 steals which are their most ever against an NCAA Division II opponent and their most since a school-record 35 steals against Virginia Intermont on Dec. 30, 2009. Yolizma Cupidan had eight steals for the Pioneers against the Valkyries, tied for the fifth-most in a game in school history and the most since Jasmine Gunn had nine steals in the 2009 game against Virginia Intermont.
Abigail Lewis led Converse with 16 points before fouling out in the fourth quarter, while Brianna James and Shakori Jennings-Shuler each had 11 points apiece. Converse shot 47.2 percent from the field in the game (25-for-53), but went just 17-for-34 at the foul line and allowed the Pioneers to take 25 more field-goal attempts.
Tusculum took a quick 4-0 lead on a layup by Martoria Patton and two foul shots from Long, and built the lead to 13-3 on a three-pointer by Wilson with 5:47 to play in the first quarter. Converse chipped away at the deficit and pulled within 15-12 on two free throws by Lewis with 2:06 to go in the period. Tusculum answered with a 9-2 run to end the quarter, capped by a three-pointer from Locklear and a layup by Johnson, to take a 24-14 lead.
The second quarter saw Converse open with an 8-1 run to pull within 25-22 on a layup by Lewis with 7:37 left in the first half. Tusculum again pulled away, scoring the next 12 points on a run that included a steal and layup followed by a three-pointer from Patterson to push the Pioneers in front 37-22 with under four minutes to play in the half. Locklear scored the final four points of the half as the Valkyries missed their final four shots and turned the ball over three times in the final three minutes.
The Pioneers led 44-27 at halftime behind 12 points from Locklear and eight by Long. Tusculum shot just 38.1 percent (16-for-42) from the field in the opening half, but scored 20 points off 21 Converse turnovers and pulled 15 offensive rebounds as a team. Lewis was the leading scorer for the Valkyries in the first half with eight points, as Converse shot an even 50 percent (10-for-20) from the field as a team.
Tusculum's lead swelled to 20 points on three occasions in the early stages of the second half, but Converse trimmed the margin to 54-44 on a layup by James with 3:53 left in the third quarter. A three-pointer by Wilson restored Tusculum's lead to 62-46 with 1:36 remaining in the period, and the Pioneers carried a 62-50 advantage into the final period.
Converse remained within range at 68-58 following a basket by Tatum Boggs with 5:09 left, but Tusculum was able to put the game away at the foul line. The Pioneers scored just two field goals in the final five minutes, but went 15-for-20 at the foul line down the stretch.
The five players in double figures for the Pioneers marked the first time Tusculum had achieved the feat since Feb. 28, 2015 at Coker. Patterson and Wilson each reached double figures despite playing just 18 and 19 minutes, respectively, in the game.
Eight of Sutton's game-high 13 rebounds were on the offensive glass, while she went 7-for-11 at the foul line in the game. Nigeria Davis led Converse with six rebounds in the game, while Jennings-Shuler went 5-for-6 from the field en route to her 11 points in 15 minutes off the bench.
Tusculum will play King in the second day of the SAC/Conference Carolinas Challenge on Saturday at 8 p.m. at Pioneer Arena, preceded by Converse against Mars Hill. In Friday's first game, Kristen Cupples had 16 points and 11 rebounds to lead King to a 67-53 win over Mars Hill. The Lions were paced by 12 points and eight rebounds apiece from Sheena Johnson and Tiffany Holloway.