HICKORY, N.C. --- Kasey Johnson matched her season high with 18 points and equaled her career best with 13 rebounds as Tusculum overcame a sluggish first quarter to defeat Lenoir-Rhyne 71-56 in South Atlantic Conference women's basketball action Saturday afternoon at Shuford Gymnasium.
Mia Long added 14 points and five rebounds and Sydney Wilson finished with 13 points for the Pioneers (10-3, 5-2 SAC), who defeated the Bears on the road for the first time since January 25, 2012. Tusculum outrebounded Lenoir-Rhyne by a 45-34 margin and had 21 offensive rebounds, which the Pioneers converted into 19 second-chance points.
Justyce Swango was the lone player in double figures for the Bears (8-8, 2-6 SAC) with 15 points, as Lenoir-Rhyne shot 35.6 percent (21-for-59) from the field and hit just five of 20 three-point attempts. Leading scorer Madi Suddreth (16.7 points per game) was held to six points on 3-for-9 shooting, while Kendall Toineeta (12.9 points per game) shot just 1-for-11 from the field and had two points.
Johnson's double-double was her second of the season, with a career-best tying four three-pointers helping equal her season high of 18 points set at Catawba on Dec. 9. Her 13 rebounds tied her career high set twice against Brevard, on Jan. 27, 2016 and on Jan. 25, 2017.
Both teams struggled from the field in the first quarter, with each team hitting just two field goals apiece. Despite going nearly seven minutes without a point, the Pioneers still held a 6-5 lead following a three-pointer from Yolizma Cupidan with 1:59 left in the period. Tusculum led 8-5 at the end of the first quarter after Long hit a pair of free throws in the final seconds.
After a three-pointer by Maddie Sutton extended the Pioneer lead to 11-5 on the first possession of the second quarter, the Bears rallied to tie the game at 13-13 on a three-pointer by Kennedy Weigt and a putback by Swango. Tusculum then rattled off nine straight points to take a 22-13 lead on a layup by Wilson with 5:39 left in the half. Three-pointers by Johnson bookended a 10-2 Tusculum run that gave the Pioneers a 32-17 lead with 2:07 left in the half, and the Pioneers would take a 37-20 lead to the locker room as the Bears were held without a point for the final 1:53 of the half.
Johnson led the Pioneers with 11 points in the first half on 3-for-5-shooting from three-point range, to go along with a game-high eight rebounds. Long was 4-for-4 from the floor and had 10 points for Tusculum, which shot 14-for-32 (43.8 percent) from the field in the half and outrebounded Lenoir-Rhyne 23-17. The Bears connected on just 28.6 percent (8-for-28) from the floor in the half, and were led by Swango and Weigt with five points apiece.
A run of seven straight points from Swango enabled the Bears to cut the Pioneer lead to 41-29 with 4:47 left in the third quarter, but Johnson sank a three and Cupidan added a layup to push the Pioneer advantage back to 17 points at 46-29. A basket by Sutton prior to the end of the quarter gave the Pioneers a 52-37 lead entering the fourth quarter. Tusculum continued to maintain its lead in the fourth quarter, taking its largest lead of the game at 67-48 following two free throws from Wilson with 3:33 to go.
For the Pioneers, Martoria Patton scored all eight of her points after halftime and also finished with eight rebounds. Cupidan shot 4-for-7 from the field and had nine points to go along with five rebounds and three steals, with Sutton adding five points and four rebounds in 13 minutes off the bench.
Despite scoring just two points, Toineeta led the Bears with seven rebounds and three assists and also had three steals. Weigt had eight points on 3-for-10 shooting for Lenoir-Rhyne, which turned the ball over 20 times leading to 18 points for the Pioneers.
Tusculum returns home to face fourth-ranked Carson-Newman (15-0, 7-0 SAC) on Wednesday at 6 p.m. at Pioneer Arena. The game has been designated "Orange Crush Night" with the first 500 fans in attendance receiving a free "Orange Crush" t-shirt courtesy of Eastman Credit Union. All fans are urged to wear orange in support of the Pioneers.