ANDERSON, S.C. --- Ace Easter scored a season-high 25 points off the bench as Anderson shot 54.2 percent from the field in a 76-66 victory over Tusculum in South Atlantic Conference women's basketball action Wednesday night at the Abney Athletic Center.
Alexis Dillard added 13 points, 11 rebounds and three blocked shots for the Trojans (18-9, 12-7 SAC), who moved into sole possession of third place in the conference standings heading into the final game of the regular season on Saturday. The Trojans shot 26-for-48 from the field, outrebounded the Pioneers 45-31 and led by as many as 15 points before seeing Tusculum cut the margin to two points in the fourth quarter. On Monday, the Pioneers cut a 20-point deficit to one in the fourth quarter of a 78-68 loss to Wingate.
Four players reached double figures for the Pioneers (16-9, 11-8 SAC), who dropped their second straight and fell into a three-way tie for fourth place in the conference with Catawba and Lincoln Memorial ahead of Saturday's regular-season finale at seventh-place Newberry. The Pioneers could finish anywhere from fourth to seventh in the conference pending results of Saturday's action.
Kendrea Duke led Tusculum with 12 points and seven rebounds in 20 minutes off the bench, with Maddie Sutton tying her season high with 11 points and Sydney Wilson and Lovely Locklear adding 10 points apiece. However, the Pioneers shot just 33.8 percent (22-for-65) from the field but scored 22 points off 19 Trojan turnovers and tallied 17 second-chance points on 12 offensive rebounds in the matchup of regionally-ranked teams. Anderson was ranked eighth and Tusculum 10th in the updated NCAA Division II Southeast Region rankings that were released prior to tipoff.
Easter shot 9-for-14 from the field, including 3-for-4 from three-point range, in 32 minutes of playing time for Anderson. Madison Baggett added 14 points and Alexy Mollenhauer tallied 12 for the Trojans, who were 19-for-31 (61.3 percent) from the foul line and had just nine assists on 26 field goals, but blocked 10 Tusculum shots in the victory. Dillard, Baggett and Taylor Hair each had three blocks to lead the way for the Trojans, with Hair adding four points and six rebounds in 17 minutes off the bench.
Tusculum led 5-1 after two minutes before Anderson scored its first basket on a layup by Mollenhauer with 7:29 left in the first quarter. The Pioneers held the lead for much of the opening quarter, taking an 18-15 lead on a basket by Sutton with four seconds left in the period.
After leading by one and two points briefly in the first quarter, Anderson used a 6-0 surge to take a 25-22 lead on a basket by Dillard with 7:19 left in the first half. Callie Patterson sank a three-pointer to bring the Pioneers back into a 25-25 tie, but an 8-2 burst from the Trojans pushed Anderson's lead to 33-27 on a jumper by Baggett with 4:03 to go in the half. Another run, of eight consecutive points, was capped by a jumper from Easter which gave Anderson a 41-28 lead with 1:54 remaining in the half. The Trojans outscored the Pioneers 28-11 in the second quarter.
Anderson led 43-29 at halftime as Easter went 6-for-7 from the field and scored a game-high 14 points, while Dillard added 12 points and eight rebounds in 13 minutes for the Trojans. Yolizma Cupidan was the leading scorer for Tusculum in the first half with nine points, with eight points from Duke and four by Sutton. Tusculum shot 32.4 percent (11-for-34) from the floor in the opening half while the Trojans shot a sizzling 66.7 percent (18-for-27) in the opening 20 minutes, while holding a 24-13 edge in rebounding.
The Pioneers opened the third quarter with a 9-1 run, with a three-point play by Wilson cutting the Trojans' lead to 44-38 with 5:49 left in the period. After four missed shots and two turnovers at the start of the quarter, Anderson received its first field goal from Easter as part of a three-point play with 5:24 left in the quarter to go back on top 47-38. Tusculum was held without a field goal for the final three minutes of the quarter as Anderson ended the period with a 15-6 run to take its largest lead of the game at 59-44 on a three-pointer by Baggett just before the buzzer.
In the fourth quarter, the Pioneers began their comeback effort as five straight points by Locklear were part of a 7-0 run that cut the Trojans' lead to 59-51 with 8:04 remaining. A layup by Mollenhauer broke the run, but the Pioneers rattled off eight consecutive points behind three-pointers from Sutton and Kasey Johnson, the latter capping a 15-2 surge and pulling Tusculum within 61-59 with 6:09 left. A basket by Mollenhauer pushed the Trojans back ahead 63-61, but the Pioneers were able to get back within a basket twice, on a layup by Locklear with 4:16 left and a layup by Mia Long with 2:50 remaining. Leading 65-63, Anderson went 8-for-9 from the foul line in the final 2 1/2 minutes while holding the Pioneers to just a three-pointer by Johnson with 40 seconds remaining.
After a red-hot first half, Anderson cooled off to 38.1 percent shooting (8-for-21) from the field in the second half, but the Trojans went 14-for-23 at the foul line in the half. Tusculum improved its shooting slightly in the second half, connecting on 11-for-31 from the floor (35.5 percent) but hitting 12-of-14 at the foul line.
Johnson finished with six points on a pair of three-pointers, and had four rebounds and three steals for the Pioneers in 36 minutes of action. Wilson, the SAC leader in three-pointers with 65 entering the game, went just 1-for-4 from beyond the arc and 4-for-10 overall but reached double figures for the 10th straight game and the 17th time in the last 18 contests.
The Pioneers will tip off at 2 p.m. Saturday at Newberry against the Wolves, who lost to Tusculum on the road 72-65 on Jan. 13. The Wolves have defeated the Pioneers nine straight meetings at Eleazer Arena, since a 68-60 Tusculum overtime victory on Jan. 23, 2008.