Lenoir-Rhyne edges Tusculum 82-79 in nail-biter

Donovan Donaldson scored a team-high 16 points in Tusculum's 82-79 home loss to Lenoir-Rhyne (photo by James Spears)
Donovan Donaldson scored a team-high 16 points in Tusculum's 82-79 home loss to Lenoir-Rhyne (photo by James Spears)

GREENEVILLE, Tenn. --- The Lenoir-Rhyne men's basketball team closed out the game with a 6-1 run over the final two minutes as the Bears edged Tusculum 82-79 Saturday at Pioneer Arena in South Atlantic Conference action.

Lenoir-Rhyne (11-14, 9-10 SAC) completes the season-sweep over the Pioneers (6-19, 4-14 SAC) and eliminating TC from league postseason contention.  Tusculum has played in 13 games decided by 10 points or less this season with Saturday's nail-bitter the eighth game being by three points or fewer.

L-R's Djibril Diallo led all players with 22 points as he went 10-of-17 from the floor and scored 14 points in the second half in the win.  Diallo added seven rebounds and seven assists as the Bears have won five of the last seven meetings with Tusculum.

With the score tied at 69-69 with five minutes to go, LR's Darius Simmons connected on a three-pointer to give the Bears a three-point lead with 4:02 remaining. The two teams traded baskets as LR led 74-71 with three minutes to go.  TC's Donovan Donaldson made two free throws and drained a three-pointer with 2:14 left to give the Pioneers a 76-74 lead.

Cory Thomas and sparked the Lenoir-Rhyne 6-1 run at the end of the game with five straight points in a span of 11 seconds including a three-point play and a steal and a dunk as the Bears moved ahead 79-76 with 1:49 remaining.

Both teams came up empty on their next trips of the floor missing on three-point tries.  Donaldson was fouled with 46 seconds left as he made one of two free throws to trim the deficit to 79-77.  On L-R's next possession and with the shot clock running down, Diallo made a clutch 15-foot jumper to push the lead to 81-77 with 18 seconds left.

Donaldson made a layup with 12.2 seconds remaining to make it a two-point game at 81-79.  L-R's Lucas Reed was fouled with 8.8 seconds left as he made the second of two free throws as the Bears led 82-79.

Tusculum got the ball to senior Ronnie Baylark on the right wing but his potential game-tying three-point try was off target as Lenoir-Rhyne held on the for the victory.

Thomas finished the game with 19 points for the Bears while also hauling in six rebounds.

Donaldson led the Pioneers with his 16 points and five assists.  Caleb Hodnett was perfect in the contest going 5-of-5 from the floor and 5-of-5 at the free throw line matching a career-best 15 points he had against Coker in December.  Hodnett also posted six rebounds for the home team.

Dashaunte Smith went 5-of-9 from the field and 4-of-5 from three-point land, totaling 14 points with six boards and five assists.  Peyton Woods tallied 14 points as he made four 3-pointers and dished out three assists.

Both teams finished with eight turnovers apiece, but the Bears made the most of the gained miscues, converting those into 15 points, while the Pioneers scored five points off or L-R turnovers.

L-R also held an 18-0 advantage in fast-break points and 42-28 lead in points in the paint.  The Bears out-rebounded TC 40-33 on the boards with Bertrand Awana grabbing a game-high 10 rebounds while scoring nine points and recording three blocked shots.

Tusculum finished the game with 20 assists on its 27 made field goals, including 11 from beyond the arc.  L-R shot 48.4 percent from the floor, including 20-of-35 in the second half (57.1%).  TC shot 43.5 percent from the field, including 11-of-29 from three-point land (38%) and went 14-of-17 from the free throw line (82.4%).

Tusculum will chose out the season with a pair of road games next week at Anderson (Wed.) and Newberry (Sat.).