Pioneers use strong second half to notch first SAC win of season

Pioneers use strong second half to notch first SAC win of season

GREENEVILLE, Tenn. --- Trenton Gibson recorded 15 points and seven rebounds as the Tusculum University men's basketball team posted a 72-60 South Atlantic Conference victory over cross-mountain rival Mars Hill University Wednesday night at Pioneer Arena.

The Pioneers (5-8, 1-4 SAC) record their first conference win of the season while Mars Hill evens its record at 6-6 and goes to 1-4 in league play.  TU also records its sixth consecutive victory over the Lions.

Tusculum shot 17-of-30 in the second half (57%) and went 14-of-18 at the free throw line (78%), including Gibson who went 4-of-5 from the charity stripe.  The Pioneers finished the night shooting 27-of-62 from the field (

Mars Hill shot 34.4 percent from the field (22-of-64) and 16 percent from three-point land (4-of-25) as the SAC's leading scorer Ja'Shawn Brooks was limited to a season-low two points while missing the final 15:27 of the game due to an injury. Brooks entered the game averaging 22.9 points per game which is the 14th-best scoring average in the country.

Tusculum sophomore Brandon Mitchell added 13 points and a team-high nine rebounds with two blocked shots.  Mitchell went 6-of-10 from the floor, while junior teammates Dillon Smith finished with 10 points and Cam King added eight markers and six boards in the victory.

Mars Hill's Austin Gilyard led all scorers with 19 points, while the trio of Matthew Powell, Reggie Wright and Austin Stone finished with seven points apiece.

The game was a defensive battle in the first half as score was tied 13-13 with 10:15 left in the opening period.  Tusculum went on a 10-2 run over the next five minutes to take a 23-15 lead sparked by four points from Mitchell including a slam dunk.

The Lions answered with seven straight points over a span of 3:05, capped off by a Chris Barnette three-pointers to trim the deficit to 23-22 with 2:06 left in the half.

King converted a jumper and Gibson made one of two free throws down the stretch as TU led the Lions 26-22 at the intermission.

In the second half with Tusculum leading 30-28, the Pioneers went on a 21-8 spurt over a span of 7:16 to take its largest lead of the game at 51-36 following a Gibson triple with 9:16 on the clock.

The Lions got a trey from Gilyard and a layup from Nassyr Daniel to cut the lead back to 10 (51-41) with 8:24 remaining.  MHU trimmed TU lead to single digits at 57-48 thanks to a three-point play from Stone with 6:31 left.

A thunderous dunk from Mitchell and a three-pointer from Smith gave TU a 62-48 advantage with 5:29 on the scoreboard.

Tusculum would lead 65-52 with 2:36 to go before Mars Hill made a final push scoring six straight to get to within seven at 65-58 with 1:12 on the board. But the Pioneers would make seven of its final eight free throws as the TU held on for the 12-point victory.

The Pioneers' Caleb Hodnett added seven points and eight rebounds and was perfect from the field on his three field goal attempts including a three-pointer.

Tusculum's leading scorer Donovan Donaldson was held to six points as he inches closer to a personal milestone as he is 17 points from recording his 1,000th collegiate point.

Tusculum continues its three-game homestand on Saturday when they host Coker College for a 4 p.m. contest at Pioneer Arena.