GREENEVILLE, Tenn. --- After rolling through its non-conference schedule with five victories in six games, the Tusculum University women's basketball team begins South Atlantic Conference play with a pair of home games this week.
The Pioneers host Lenoir-Rhyne in their league opener on Tuesday, Nov. 26 at 5:30 p.m., then welcome Catawba on Saturday, Nov. 30 at Pioneer Arena. Tusculum is 2-0 at home this season and 24-6 at Pioneer Arena since the start of the 2017-18 season.
RECAPPING THE WEEK
Tusculum (5-1) played just one game last week, a 109-53 rout of Johnson & Wales on Friday evening at Pioneer Arena. The 109 points scored by the Pioneers were the most since a 117-38 win over Virginia Intermont on Dec. 30, 2009, and marked the first time that Tusculum hit triple figures since beating Mars Hill 100-39 on Feb. 7, 2018.
All 12 players who saw action for the Pioneers scored at least five points, led by junior guard Aliyah Miller who had a team-high 20 points along with six rebounds, five steals and three assists in 25 minutes off the bench. Sophomore guard Mya Belton added 14 points and a career-high 12 rebounds, and junior center Maddie Sutton (11) and sophomore guard Marta Rodrigues (10) also reached double figures for the Pioneers in the win.
The Pioneers finished 40-for-90 (44.4 percent) from the field as a team, tying for the sixth-most field goals made in a single game in school history and tied for seventh in field goal attempts. Tusculum hoisted 41 three-pointers in the game, shooting 9-for-24 in the first half but just 2-for-17 after intermission. The Pioneers were 18-for-33 (54.5 percent) at the foul line while the Wildcats shot 16-for-26 (61.5 percent) at the stripe.
Lenoir-Rhyne (2-3) was picked fifth in the SAC Preseason Coaches Poll and has alternated wins and losses through its first five games. The Bears lost 92-65 to 21st-ranked Lander in their season opener, but came back to beat USC Aiken 82-70 at the SAC/Peach Belt Conference Challenge. LR then lost 65-56 to UNC Pembroke in its home opener, but then defeated Lees-McRae 75-54 last Wednesday. On Saturday, the Bears fell 88-73 at Belmont Abbey.
Sophomore forward Madeline Hardy is the Bears' leading scorer at 19.0 points per game (fourth in SAC), and ranks fifth in the conference with a team-best 10.4 rebounds per game. Hardy has registered 20 points and 10 rebounds in three straight games, including 20/15 against UNC Pembroke and 24/11 against Belmont Abbey.
Junior guard Kennedy Weigt is averaging 13.4 points per game and has connected on a team-high 16 three-pointers in 44 attempts (36.4 percent). Weigt is tied for seventh in the SAC with 3.2 assists per game. Senior forward Karlie Bearden adds 7.4 points and 5.8 rebounds per game for the Bears, who rank last in the SAC with 5.4 steals per game as a team and force just 14 turnovers per contest.
Tusculum swept Lenoir-Rhyne for the second straight year last season, winning 66-45 on the road and 82-57 at home, and boosting the Pioneers into the lead in the all-time series by a 24-23 margin.
Catawba (4-0) opens its conference schedule at home Tuesday against Newberry, following non-conference wins over North Greenville (74-42), Erskine (77-58), Fayetteville State (74-68) and Lees-McRae (100-51) in their most-recent game on Saturday.
Against Lees-McRae, junior forward Tashia DeShazo scored a game-high 22 points as the Indians shot 13-for-26 from three-point range and forced the Bobcats into 26 turnovers. Catawba outrebounded Lees-McRae 56-31 in the win as 14 different players reached the scoring column for the Indians.
DeShazo leads the Indians in scoring at 13.8 points per game, while junior center Talia Barnes is tops in rebounding at 6.3 per game to go along with 10.3 points per contest. Catawba ranks second in the SAC in scoring at 84.8 points per game and is second only to Tusculum in steals per game at 10.8. On defense, the Indians are second-best in scoring average, allowing just 54.8 points per game, and the Indians lead the league by forcing 26.0 turnovers per contest.
The Pioneers and Indians each won on their home courts during last year's meetings, including a 72-64 overtime win for Tusculum at Pioneer Arena. The win snapped a five-game losing streak to the Indians and evened the all-time series at 23 victories apiece.
Junior guard Mia Long leads the Pioneers in scoring at 12.8 points per game. She is ninth in the conference in field-goal percentage at 52.8 percent (28-for-53) and ranks 10th in free-throw percentage at 80.0 percent (20-for-25). Long is once again atop the conference leaderboard in steals per game at 3.2 per contest, including six steals against both Clayton State and Johnson & Wales.
Forward Kasey Johnson enters Tuesday's game needing 14 points to become the 17th player in program history to score 1,000 career points. Johnson is second on the team at 10.3 points per game and is seventh in the SAC in three-point percentage, hitting 9-for-19 for 47.4 percent from beyond the arc.
Guard Sydney Wilson is also averaging 10.3 points per game for the Pioneers and has connected on 39.1 percent (9-for-23) from three-point range. In all, a total of seven different Pioneers are averaging at least one three-pointer per game, with the team ranking second in the conference with 56 three-pointers made through six games.
The Pioneers lead the SAC in fewest turnovers per game at 13.7 per contest, and have made 12.3 steals per game to also lead the league. Tusculum ranks second in turnovers forced per game at 25.3 and is fourth in scoring defense at 58.3 points allowed per game.
FOLLOW THE GAME
Justin Jeffers will describe all the action of Tusculum women's basketball on the Pioneer Sports Network. Fans can listen to the game locally on WSMG Radio at 95.5 FM and 1450 AM, and on-line at www.TusculumPioneers.com. The Pioneer Pre-Game show begins 15 minutes before tip-off.
Live video and live stats for all Tusculum home basketball games can be viewed on the Pioneers' social media platforms. All links are available at www.TusculumPioneers.com with video available on the Tusculum Athletics YouTube page.
Tickets for Tuesday and Saturday's games are $7 for adults with children ages 12 and under will be admitted free. Gates open one hour before the first game.