CINCINNATI, Ohio --- No rest for the weary as the Tusculum University men's basketball team will play its third NCAA Division I opponent in six days as the Pioneers travel to the Queen City to take on the Cincinnati Bearcats at Fifth Third Arena Thursday night.
TU played last night at defending SEC Champion Tennessee as the sixth-ranked Vols handed the Black & Orange an 87-49 loss. TU's Dillon Smith led the Pioneers with 12 points shooting 4-of-6 from the floor including both his three-point tries and 2-of-2 at the foul line.
Tusculum opened the exhibition season last Friday night with a 96-47 setback at Arkansas. TU jumped out to an early 8-0 lead and only trailed 30-24 at the half. But the Razorbacks poured in 66 points in the second half for the victory.
The Pioneers are wrapping up a grueling six-day stretch where the Black & Orange is taking on the strongest exhibition slate in program history. Arkansas, Tennessee and Cincinnati all advanced to last year's NCAA Tournament and combined for an 80-26 overall record.
Tusculum head coach J.T. Burton took over the TU program in March, becoming the 28th men's basketball coach in school history and the seventh head coach during the NCAA Division II era of the program.
In this six-day, exhibition stretch the Pioneers will travel an estimated 2,290 miles round-trip while facing three of the most established programs in college basketball which have combined for three NCAA national championships, 12 trips to the NCAA Final Four and 85 combined NCAA postseason appearances between them.
This will be the Bearcats only exhibition game and first contest in the newly renovated Fifth Third Arena. Cincinnati enjoyed an outstanding season last year as UC finished with a 31-5 record, swept both the American Athletic Conference regular-season and tournament championships before falling in the second round of the NCAA postseason.
Coach Burton's inaugural TU squad includes five lettermen and two starters from last year's 6-21 team that finished 10th in the South Atlantic Conference. Back from a year ago is TU's top scorer in senior guard Donovan Donaldson. The Nashville, Tennessee product averaged 14.1 points per game (17th in SAC) while dishing out a team-best 4.6 assists per contest (3rd in SAC). Donaldson finished with 11 points against Arkansas on Friday.
Since the NCAA has allowed Division II teams to face D-I programs in exhibition contests, the Pioneers haven't been shy of facing some of the best teams in the land. Tusculum has played Tennessee in exhibition contests on a couple of occasions, while also taking on the likes of Xavier, Notre Dame, Georgia Tech, ETSU and Vanderbilt to name a few. The Pioneers came close to pulling off a monumental upset in 2007 when Tusculum took Vanderbilt to the final horn, losing 80-79 in Nashville.
Tusculum will open its regular season next weekend (Nov. 9-10) at the SAC/Peach Belt Challenge in Aiken, South Carolina. TU will open against host USC Aiken on Nov. 9 before taking on defending PBC Champion Clayton State on Nov. 10.
The Pioneers will play its first five regular-season games on the road before hosting Lander University on Nov. 24 at Pioneer Arena.