ANDERSON, S.C. --- Gage Ellis scored a career-high 32 points to lead Anderson University to a 69-64 win over visiting Tusculum University Wednesday night at the Abney Athletic Center in the South Atlantic Conference men's basketball opener for both teams.
The Trojans (4-2, 1-0 SAC) record their third consecutive victory as the Pioneers (3-4, 0-1 SAC) where whistled for 23 turnovers including six offensive fouls as AU converted the TU miscues into 27 points.
Ellis went 14-of-22 from the floor in his 38 minutes of action, scoring 19 of his 32 points in the second half. Andrew Boynton came off the bench to score 15 points going 5-of-7 from the field including 3-of-5 from beyond the arc.
Tusculum was led by freshman Trenton Gibson who scored a season-high 15 points to go along with his eight rebounds and three assists. TU senior Donovan Donaldson scored a dozen points in the first half going 4-of-4 from three-point land, but was held scoreless in the second half going 0-for-2 from both the field and the free throw line.
The Pioneers scored the first five points of the game and jumped out to a 13-4 lead following a three-point play from Gibson. Anderson responded with a 12-5 spurt to trim the deficit to 18-16 thanks to a pair of Boynton treys and two baskets from Ellis.
Tusculum pushed the lead out to 26-18 thanks to an 8-2 run which included two triples from Donaldson and a slam dunk from junior Caleb Hodnett.
The Trojans erupted for a 13-0 run over a span of 2:48 with Ellis accounting for seven points and Boynton adding two 3-pointers to lead 31-26 with 1:22 remaining in the half. The Pioneers closed the period with five straight points including an offensive rebound and put-back by senior Jackie Davis and junior Dillon Smith buried a three-pointer at the buzzer to send the teams to the locker rooms tied 31-31 at the intermission.
AU's Shawn Benard opened the second half with a three-pointer before the Pioneers scored eight straight to move up 39-34 with 15:58 remaining in the period. Ellis sparked an 8-2 run including six straight points as the Trojans retook the lead at 42-41 with 14:54 to go.
TU junior Cameron King connected on a layup and senior Malik Tyree canned a three-pointer as the Pioneer lead grew to 46-42 at the 14:05 mark. Anderson responded with a 9-0 run including seven points from Ellis and a bucket from Boynton as the Trojans led once again 51-46 with 10 minutes left.
Tyree stayed hot for Tusculum as he hit his second trey of the half and answered an AU bucket with a layup of his own as TU trailed 53-51 with under nine minutes remaining.
Josh Livingston hit a pair of free throws for Anderson and Benard posted a steal and a layup to give the hosts a 57-51 lead with 8:32 on the clock. Baskets by junior Tariq Jenkins and sophomore Brandon Mitchell pulled Tusculum to within two at 57-55 with 7:26 remaining.
The two teams went scoreless for the next two minutes before Benard broke the drought with a pair of free throws to move the AU advantage to 59-55 with 5:25 left. Jenkins scored a basket for the Pioneers before Benard followed with one of his own as the lead stayed at four (61-57) with 4:50 remaining.
The teams traded baskets again before Boynton connected on a layup with 2:15 remaining to swell the AU lead to 65-59. After a Tusculum timeout, Gibson pulled up for a clutch three-pointer to pull TU within a possession at 65-62 with 1:54 left.
The Trojans missed a jumper on their next possession, but Boynton came up with the loose ball on the rebound to extend the possession to allow Gage to score a jumper to make it a two-possession game at 67-62 with 49 second remaining.
Tusculum came up empty on its next trip up the floor as Boynton was fouled. He made one of two free throws with 34 seconds left for a 68-62 lead. Gibson was fouled for Tusculum as he made his two free throws to trim the deficit to 68-64 with 27 seconds left. But that would be as close as the visitors would get as Boynton made one of two free throws and the Pioneers missed a pair of three-point tries down the stretch to close out the game.
Both teams connected on 25 field goals with TU going 9-of-17 (52.9%) from three-point land and Anderson went 7-of-19 (36.8%). But the Trojans, the top free throw shooting team in the league, went 12-of-15 at the line (80%) while the Pioneers shot 5-of-10 at the charity stripe.
Tusculum continued its dominance on the glass this season as TU out-rebounded Anderson 39-26 including 14-6 on the offensive boards resulting in 10-2 advantage in second-chance scoring.
Donaldson led the Pioneers with nine rebounds including six in the second half.
Tusculum returns to action on Saturday as they travel to Salisbury, North Carolina to take on Catawba College for a 4 p.m. contest at Goodman Gym.