GREENEVILLE, Tenn. --- The Tusculum University women's basketball team is set to embark on its 2019-20 schedule, which begins on Friday, Nov. 8.
The Pioneers will play 28 games during the 2019-20 season, including 22 South Atlantic Conference games in a league slate that was expanded by two games due to the addition of UVa-Wise to the league. Tusculum will play the conference newcomers at home on Wednesday, Dec. 18 and on the road on Wednesday, Feb. 5.
In addition to their 11 home conference games, the Pioneers will host Clayton State and Johnson & Wales in non-conference contests and Alice Lloyd in an exhibition game that will be played on New Year's Eve. Tusculum has two non-conference tournaments on its schedule, with trips to King for the SAC/Conference Carolinas Challenge on Nov. 8-9 and a visit to North Georgia for the Nighthawk Classic on Nov. 15-16.
Tusculum recorded its first 20-win season since the 2010-11 season, finishing 20-9 overall and in fifth place in the SAC with an 8-8 record. The Pioneers, who were eliminated from the SAC Tournament with a 53-47 quarterfinal loss at Wingate, were 11-3 at home and had winning streaks of seven, five and four games during the year. Five opponents on this year's schedule appeared in last year's NCAA Tournament, accounting for eight of the Pioneers' 28 games this season.
For the sixth straight year, the Pioneers will participate in the SAC/Conference Carolinas Challenge, which is a crossover tournament involving teams from each league. Tusculum is 7-3 in their previous five Challenges, including a 64-49 win over Belmont Abbey on the road in last year's season opener. The Crusaders went 21-10 last year and were third in Conference Carolinas at 15-5, then beat King and Barton to advance to the tournament finals before losing 69-57 to Emmanuel. The Pioneers are 2-0 all-time against the Crusaders, which includes a 77-55 home win in the first-ever meeting on Nov. 16, 2017.
The following afternoon, the Pioneers will play against host King. The Pioneers defeated King 76-55 in last year's Challenge and are 3-2 all-time against the Tornado in the event, with both losses in Bristol. King finished 14-14 last season and tied for fifth place in Conference Carolinas at 10-10 before losing to Belmont Abbey in the conference quarterfinals. The Pioneers have a 19-10 lead in the all-time series with the Tornado.
Tusculum will play its home opener on Tuesday, Nov. 12 against Clayton State. The Lakers finished 21-10 overall last season and fourth in the Peach Belt Conference with a 16-6 record, losting to North Georgia in the PBC semifinals and falling to Wingate in the first round of the NCAA Southeast Regional. The Pioneers beat the Lakers 65-62 on the road on Nov. 15 of last season on a three-pointer by Callie Patterson at the buzzer. Clayton State is making its first-ever trip to Pioneer Arena, but have a 6-3 lead in the all-time series including a 2-1 mark at home and a 4-2 record at neutral sites.
The Pioneers will then visit Dahlonega, Georgia for the first time since 2011 to participate in the Nighthawk Classic on Nov. 15 and 16. The Pioneers will play Georgia College in their first game, who finished 10-19 overall and 8-14 in the Peach Belt Conference last year. The Bobcats finished last season with eight straight losses, including an 82-51 setback to North Georgia in the PBC quarterfinals. The Bobcats lead the series over the Pioneers 2-1, but Tusculum won the last meeting 54-45 on Dec. 30, 2011.
Tusculum will then play the host Nighthawks on Saturday, Nov. 16. North Georgia won the Peach Belt Conference regular-season title last year at 19-3, beat Columbus State 90-72 in the PBC Tournament finals, then defeated Emmanuel, Wingate and Lander by double figures to claim the Southeast Region championship. The Nighthawks lost 99-54 to Lubbock Christian in the Elite Eight to end the year with a 30-5 record. Tusculum's last meeting with North Georgia was a 92-61 loss on Nov. 29, 2013, and the Nighthawks lead the series 2-1.
The Pioneers' final non-conference game of the season will be on Friday, Nov. 22 at Pioneer Arena against Johnson & Wales in the first-ever meeting between the programs. The Wildcats were 17-9 last season and beat top-seeded Apprentice in the inaugural Eastern Metro Athletic Conference championship game. Johnson & Wales participated in the USCAA Basketball National Championship, which they won in 2018, and lost to Villa Maria 66-62 in the semifinals.
On Tuesday, Nov. 26 the Pioneers will open their SAC regular-season schedule with a home game against Lenoir-Rhyne. The Bears went 17-13 last season and finished fourth in the SAC with an 11-9 record, beating Newberry in the quarterfinals before falling 77-65 to Anderson in the SAC semifinals. Tusculum swept Lenoir-Rhyne last season, winning 66-45 in Hickory on Jan. 5 and beating the Bears 82-57 on Feb. 16 at home. Last year's sweep was the second in a row for the Pioneers over the Bears, and boosted Tusculum back into the series all-time lead at 24-23.
Following Thanksgiving, the Pioneers will remain home to face Catawba on Saturday, Nov. 30. The Indians went 13-15 overall last season and took eighth place in the SAC with an 8-12 record, losing to Anderson in the quarterfinal round of the SAC tournament. The teams each won on their home court last season, with the Indians taking a 64-51 decision at home on Dec. 1 and the Pioneers earning a 72-64 overtime win at Pioneer Arena on Jan. 26. The overtime win leveled the all-time series at 23 wins apiece, and snapped a five-game losing streak by the Pioneers to the Indians.
The first conference road trip of the season will be to Newberry on Saturday, Dec. 7. The Wolves were 16-12 overall and 10-10 in the SAC, tying for fifth place in the league before falling at Lenoir-Rhyne 69-51 in the SAC quarterfinals. Last year, the Pioneers swept the Wolves for the first time since 2007-08, beating the 25th-ranked Wolves 75-54 on Jan. 21 and earning a 71-63 victory at Newberry on Feb. 2 to snap a 10-game road losing streak in the series. Tusculum leads the all-time series 26-23.
On Wednesday, Dec. 18 Tusculum will be home to play its first-ever SAC game against UVa-Wise. The Cavaliers joined the SAC over the summer from the Mountain East Conference, where the Cavaliers finished 13-16 overall and 11-11 in the league. UVa-Wise lost 76-62 to Concord in the opening round of the MEC Tournament. The Cavaliers beat the Pioneers in the last meeting on Nov. 26, 2016, but Tusculum still leads the series by a 16-6 margin.
The Pioneers will wrap up the 2019 portion of their conference schedule with a visit to Queens on Saturday, Dec. 21. The Royals were 10-16 overall last season and finished ninth in the league with a 5-15 record. The Pioneers beat the Royals 94-62 at home on Dec. 16 of last season and followed with a 58-41 road win on Feb. 9. The Pioneers have won four in a row over the Royals and lead the series 12-3, including 9-3 since the Royals joined the SAC for the 2013-14 season.
Tusculum will play on New Year's Eve for the first time since 2011 when Alice Lloyd visits Pioneer Arena for an exhibition game on Tuesday, Dec. 31. The Eagles, a member of NAIA Division II from Pippa Passes, Kentucky, were 13-18 overall last year and 6-12 in the River States Conference. The Pioneers and Eagles met 11 times between 1992 and 1996, with Tusculum compiling an 8-3 record.
Defending SAC champion Anderson will visit Pioneer Arena on Saturday, Jan. 4. The Trojans reeled off 28 consecutive victories, including a perfect 20-0 run through the SAC regular season, and won the conference tournament championship by defeating Wingate 62-60 in the title game. However, the Trojans were upset 64-61 by Lander in the Southeast Region semifinals to finish with a 30-3 record. Anderson leads the all-time series 18-7, including eight straight home-court victories and four in a row overall.
The Pioneers will play their next three games on the road, starting Wednesday, Jan. 8 with a visit to Mars Hill. The Lions won just one game during the 2018-19 season, a 78-69 victory over Warren Wilson on Nov. 20. Mars Hill was 0-20 in conference games a year ago, including a 79-46 loss at Pioneer Arena on Jan. 9 and a 67-32 setback at home on Feb. 13. The Pioneers, who have won four in a row over the Lions, are even in the all-time series at 25 victories apiece.
Tusculum will then visit Coker on Saturday, Jan. 11 for the first of two meetings with the Cobras, who were 5-23 overall last season and 4-16 in the SAC. The Cobras were swept by the Pioneers in last year's meetings, losing 71-57 in Greeneville on Jan. 12 and 59-35 at home on Feb. 23. Tusculum leads the all-time series 9-3, including seven straight wins overall and five in a row at home.
The final stop on the three-game road swing will be Carson-Newman on Wednesday, Jan. 15. The Eagles tied for second place with Wingate in the SAC standings at 15-5 last year, and were eliminated in overtime by Lincoln Memorial 80-77 in the conference quarterfinals. Carson-Newman earned a berth in the NCAA Southeast Regional, but fell to Lander 82-79 in the opening round to finish at 22-8. The Eagles beat the Pioneers in a pair of close games last season, 75-70 on the road on Jan. 16 and 73-71 at home on Feb. 20. The Eagles have beaten the Pioneers six straight meetings and are 29-11 against Tusculum in SAC games.
The last two games in the first half of conference play will be at Pioneer Arena, beginning with Wingate on Saturday, Jan. 18. The Bulldogs were 15-5 in the SAC last year and won all three meetings over the Pioneers despite trailing or being tied in the fourth quarter in all three contests. Wingate beat Tusculum 73-67 at home on Jan. 19, beat the Pioneers 51-47 in overtime in the regular-season finale on March 2, then rallied for a 53-47 win at home in the quarterfinals of the SAC Tournament on March 6. The Bulldogs would eventually advance to both the SAC and Southeast Region finals before losing to Anderson (62-60) and North Georgia (76-53) to end the year at 23-9. Wingate has beaten Tusculum seven in a row and now leads the series by a 33-12 margin, including 18-5 at home.
Closing out the first half will be Lincoln Memorial, which visits on Wednesday, Jan. 22. The Railsplitters ended the season 16-14 overall and 10-10 in conference play, including a 76-75 win at home over the Pioneers on Jan. 23 and a 69-58 road loss on Feb. 27. LMU beat Carson-Newman in the SAC quarterfinals before being eliminated by Wingate 70-61 in the semifinal round. The Railsplitters have a 44-30 lead in the all-time series, but Tusculum holds a 15-11 edge in SAC regular-season contests.
The second half of league play begins at Catawba on Saturday, Jan. 25 followed by a trip to Lenoir-Rhyne on Wednesday, Jan. 29. Tusculum will then host Newberry on Saturday, Feb. 1 with a trip to UVa-Wise following on Wednesday, Feb. 5. Tusculum will celebrate Basketball Alumni Weekend for its home game with Queens on Saturday, Feb. 8, with Mars Hill coming to town on Wednesday, Feb. 12. Tusculum goes to Anderson on Saturday, Feb. 15 and then hosts Carson-Newman on Wednesday, Feb. 19 and Coker on Saturday, Feb. 22 for Senior Day. The regular season concludes with road games at Lincoln Memorial on Wednesday, Feb. 26 and Wingate on Saturday, Feb. 29.
The Pilot Flying J South Atlantic Conference Women's Basketball Championship will include the top eight teams in the final standings, and will begin with quarterfinal games on campus sites on Wednesday, March 4. The semifinals will be on Saturday, March 7 and the championship game on Sunday, March 8 at Timmons Arena in Greenville, South Carolina, with the winner earning an automatic bid to the NCAA Division II Tournament.