GREENEVILLE, Tenn. --- Tusculum University's Dillon Smith hit the go-ahead three-pointer with 1:29 remaining and held off a last second charge from Lenoir-Rhyne as the Pioneers held on for a thrilling 56-54 win over Lenoir-Rhyne University, Saturday afternoon at Pioneer Arena in men's basketball action.
Tusculum improves to 12-12 overall and 8-8 in the South Atlantic Conference as TU has won three of its last four games. Lenoir-Rhyne falls to 16-8 overall and 9-7 in the league as the Bears suffer their fourth consecutive loss. TU also snaps a three-game drought against Lenoir-Rhyne while avenging last month's 77-74 loss to L-R.
The Pioneers remain in sixth place in the conference standings, but move to within one game of fifth place currently held by Lenoir-Rhyne. The victory did clinch a postseason berth for Tusculum as the Pioneers will compete in next month's SAC Quarterfinal round.
Tusculum's Caleb Hodnett led all players with his 20 points and 12 rebounds for his second straight double-double and fourth of the season. Dononvan Donaldson added 12 points and three assists while Smith tallied seven points with his lone three-pointer coming at the right moment in the final minutes for the Pioneers.
Lenoir-Rhyne placed three players in double figures including a team-high 12 points from Darius Simmons off the bench as he went 4-of-4 from three-point territory. Bertrand Awana posted 10 points and 10 rebounds while Jonathan Jean accounted for 10 markers, four assists and shot 4-of-5 from the field including 2-of-2 from three-point land.
The Pioneers jumped out to a quick 11-3 lead in the first 5:20 of the game including a three-pointer and a dunk from Hodnett. The Bears quickly responded with eight unanswered points to tie the game at the 11:36 mark following a jumper from Jean.
Points were at a premium in the first half as the Pioneers pushed its lead out to 21-16 following a Jackie Davis layup and a Hodnett basket with 5:26 remaining before halftime. The Bears inched their way back and closed the period with a 10-4 run and got a dunk from Awana in the final minute as Lenoir-Rhyne took a 26-25 lead into the locker room.
Both teams were whistled for only four fouls apiece which would come into play later in the game.
Awana converted a layup to open the second half but the Pioneers went on an 8-2 run to retake the lead thanks to a Donaldson three-pointer and a layup from Adrian Cohen as TU led 33-30 with 14:04 remaining.
The Bears responded with an 8-4 spurt including a Simmons triple as the visitors led 38-37 with under 12 minutes to go. But seven consecutive points for TU gave the Black & Orange a 44-38 lead with 9:44 to go.
Lenoir-Rhyne fought back with a 9-0 run including three-pointers from Djibril Diallo and Simmons as the Bears led 47-44 with six minutes on the scoreboard. Tusculum answered with six straight points including an offensive rebound and put-back by Tariq Jenkins and a back-to-back buckets from Hodnett as TU led 50-47 with 3:39 remaining.
The teams traded baskets on the next four possessions. Diallo scored on a layup with 2:47 remaining, but Trenton Gibson hit a 12-foot jumper at the 2:19 mark as TU led again by 3 (52-49). Jean tied the game at 52-52 with his knock down three-pointer from the right wing with two minutes remaining. But with four seconds remaining on the shot clock, Smith took a pass from Donaldson on the right wing and nailed the three-pointer with 1:29 left as the Pioneers led 55-52.
Lenoir-Rhyne came up empty on its next two possessions but TU was unable to capitalize following a missed three-point attempt. Smith came up with a defensive rebound with nine seconds remaining and was fouled, but it was only the Bears' second team foul of the half.
Jean came up with a steal on the in-bounds play and passed it to Awana for a slam dunk as the Bears trailed 55-54 with 10 seconds remaining. After a L-R timeout, Tusculum was called for a double-tribble with 6.7 seconds left giving the Bears the ball underneath their own basket.
The Bears inbounded the ball to but Jenkins came away with the steal and was fouled immediately with four seconds left, but it was only Lenoir-Rhyne third team foul of the half. Desperately trying to get a turnover or TU at the free line. The Bears were able to get three fouls called but the last came on a long pass to Donaldson who was fouled with 0.3 seconds left. Donaldson made the first free throw and missed the second one intentionally as L-R came down with the rebound as time ran out to seal the win for the Pioneers.
Tusculum finished the game shooting 42.9 percent from the floor as Lenoir-Rhyne went 20-of-51 for 39.2 percent. Both teams went to the free throw line seven times each as L-R went 6-of-7 (85.%) and the Pioneers shot 4-of-7 (57.1%).
TU out-rebounded the Bears by a 36-28 margin including 11-6 on the offensive glass. TU outscored the Bears 36-22 in the paint and held a 14-9 edge in points off turnovers.
The Pioneers return to action on Wednesday when they make the trip to Jefferson City to take on arch-rival Carson-Newman for an 8 p.m. contest at Holt Fieldhouse. TU will be looking for the season-sweep of the Eagles as the Pioneers won 63-49 last month in Greeneville.