GREENEVILLE, Tenn. --- Tusculum University used a 12-0 run over a five-minute span of the first half to take control against Lenoir-Rhyne University, and the Pioneers went on to defeat the Bears 66-49 in their South Atlantic Conference women's basketball league opener Tuesday night at Pioneer Arena.
The Pioneers (6-1, 1-0 SAC), who learned earlier in the day that they were receiving votes in both the Women's Basketball Coaches Association and D2SIDA national Division II polls, received a game-high 16 points from Sydney Wilson along with 12 points and eight rebounds from Maddie Sutton to defeat the Bears (2-4, 0-1 SAC) for the fifth consecutive meeting.
Mia Long overcame first-half foul trouble to finish with 11 points, four rebounds, five assists and five steals for the Pioneers, who led 35-20 at halftime and by as many as 20 points in the third quarter. Tusculum outrebounded Lenoir-Rhyne 48-37 and forced the Bears into 21 turnovers, while scoring 24 fast-break points in the victory.
Madeline Hardy, the reigning SAC Player of the Week, led the Bears with 14 points and seven rebounds but was held to 5-for-14 shooting in the game. As a team, the Bears shot 33.9 percent (20-for-59) from the field and were outscored 47-25 from the final 90 seconds of the first quarter to the end of the third.
Long played just four minutes in the first half and was scoreless while attempting just one shot, but broke loose in the third quarter with six points, four assists and four steals. While Long was on the bench with two fouls, Elle Hutchinson came on and contributed six points and three assists in the opening half for the Pioneers. Hutchinson would finish the game with a career-high six rebounds for Tusculum.
Sutton shot 6-for-10 from the field, and her eight rebounds were second on the team to Kasey Johnson, who grabbed a game-high nine rebounds. Aliyah Miller added eight points and four rebounds in 18 minutes off the bench as Tusculum's reserves outscored Lenoir-Rhyne by a 20-9 margin.
The Pioneers, who have scored first in each of their first seven games, collected the opening points on a layup by Sutton just 32 seconds into the first quarter. There were a total of five ties during the first period, with Lenoir-Rhyne holding a two-point lead four different times, the last at 10-8 following a bucket by Karlie Bearden with 1:36 left in the quarter.
Baskets by Hutchinson and Jalia Arnwine gave the Pioneers a 12-10 lead at the end of one quarter, and the run continued in the second quarter as the Bears had three missed shots and three consecutive turnovers. Two free throws by Miller capped the 12-0 run as Tusculum led 20-10 with 7:07 left in the half. Another basket by Miller extended the Pioneer lead to 29-15 with 3:48 to go, and a layup by Johnson followed by another Miller basket helped the Pioneers to a 35-20 lead at halftime.
Tusculum shot 41.2 percent (14-for-34) from the field in the first half and just 1-for-9 from three-point range, led by eight points by Miller and seven from Wilson, while Sutton had six points and three rebounds and Hutchinson added six points in 16 minutes in place of Long. For the Bears, Hardy had six points as Lenoir-Rhyne shot 25.9 percent (7-for-27) and turned the ball over 11 times in the opening half.
The Pioneer lead swelled to 19 points at 50-31 following a layup by Long with 3:47 left in the third quarter, and Tusculum would take its largest lead of the night at 55-35 as Long converted another layup just before the end of the period. Tusculum struggled from the floor in the fourth quarter, shooting just 3-for-17 and missing all seven three-point attempts, but Lenoir-Rhyne would get no closer than 16 points.
For Lenoir-Rhyne, Hanna McClung connected on three three-pointers in five attempts and finished with nine points in 18 minutes. Off the bench, Blair Barefoot had seven points and five assists in 15 minutes of playing time, with Bearden finishing with six points and seven rebounds. Ashley Woodroffe had six points and six rebounds for Lenoir-Rhyne, which shot just 4-for-8 from the foul line as a team.
Tusculum, which has won 25 of its last 31 home games dating to the start of the 2017-18 season, will host the lone unbeaten team in the SAC as Catawba (5-0) visits Pioneer Arena on Saturday at 2 p.m. The Indians defeated Newberry 73-55 in their league opener on Tuesday night.