JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. --- A 23-5 run in the latter stages of the second half propelled Tusculum University to a 79-65 victory over Carson-Newman University in South Atlantic Conference men's basketball action Wednesday night at Holt Fieldhouse.
Caleb Hodnett reached the 20-point mark for the third straight game and fourth time in five games, scoring a game-high 20 points for the Pioneers (13-12, 9-8 SAC), who have won three in a row and four out of five this month. Dillon Smith matched his season high with five three-pointers and scored 15 points off the bench as the Pioneers placed five players in double figures to sweep the season series from the Eagles for the first time since 2010-11.
Grant Teichmann led the Eagles (13-12, 6-11 SAC) with 14 points and Mason Bates added 13 points and five rebounds, but Carson-Newman shot 44.7 percent (21-for-47) overall from the field to offset a solid 10-for-22 performance from three-point range. The Eagles turned the ball over 14 times while forcing the Pioneers into just eight miscues, and lost the rebounding battle to Tusculum by a 32-28 margin.
Hodnett scored 13 of his 20 points in the second half and Smith added 12 after halftime as the Pioneers turned a 54-50 lead with 11:58 remaining into a 77-55 bulge with 4:14 to go. Despite a 10-2 run by the Eagles to end the game, the Pioneers finished with their largest margin of victory at Holt Fieldhouse since a 77-51 win on Feb. 13, 2010 and won for the 12th time in their last 18 trips to Jefferson City.
Hodnett, the reigning SAC Player of the Week, shot 8-for-14 from the field and 4-for-8 from three-point range to eclipse the 20-point plateau for the fifth time overall this season. Since returning to the starting lineup on Feb. 2 at Newberry, Hodnett is averaging 19.4 points and 7.8 rebounds per game while shooting 60.6 percent from the field.
Smith drilled four three-pointers in the second half as the Pioneers shot 9-for-17 from beyond the arc after halftime. Overall, Tusculum was 11-for-29 (37.9 percent) from three-point range and shot 48.4 percent (31-for-64) from the field as a team. Joining Smith off the bench was Brandon Mitchell, who scored six points and grabbed a season-best 10 rebounds in 19 minutes.
Tariq Jenkins also reached double figures for Tusculum with 12 points and four assists, Donovan Donaldson had 10 points and five assists and Trenton Gibson finished with 10 points and matched his season high with seven assists for the Pioneers.
With the win, Tusculum remains in sole possession of sixth place in the SAC standings with three games remaining in the regular season, a game behind Lenoir-Rhyne for fifth and a game ahead of Anderson in seventh. Carson-Newman stays in eighth place in the conference standings, two games ahead of ninth-place Newberry for the final spot in the SAC Championship tournament but two games behind Anderson for seventh.
Tusculum got off to a slow start, missing its first four shots from the field as Carson-Newman went out to a 6-0 lead after two minutes. However, a layup by Jenkins kicked off a 13-2 run by the Pioneers as the Eagles turned the ball over four times during the surge, which featured six points from Jenkins and four by Jackie Davis to give Tusculum a 13-8 lead.
Carson-Newman clawed back to regain the lead at 19-17 on back-to-back three-pointers by Malik Abraham, and the Eagles led 24-19 with 8:44 left in the half following a three by Teichmann. A three-pointer by Smith and a basket by Davis brought Tusculum back into a 24-24 tie, only to see the Eagles go back ahead 28-24 with 7:02 remaining in the half.
Neither team would lead by more than one point for the final 4:24 of the half, as the lead changed hands six times before the half ended. Two free throws by Bates with 41 seconds left gave Carson-Newman a 37-36 lead at intermission.
Tusculum shot 45.5 percent (15-for-33) from the field but just 2-for-12 from three-point range in the first half. Jenkins led the Pioneers with eight points, while Hodnett had seven and Davis and Gibson added six apiece. For the Eagles, Teichmann led a balanced attack with eight points as three other players added six, with Carson-Newman shooting 52 percent (13-for-25) from the field and 5-for-11 from long range.
The Pioneers scored the first eight points of the second half, including back-to-back three-pointers by Donaldson and Hodnett, to take a 44-37 lead with 18:26 left. Carson-Newman cut the deficit to 47-45 on a three by Nick Rogers with 16:09 to go, and the margin stood at 54-50 after a Bates jumper with 11:58 remaining.
However, Carson-Newman would miss its next five shots as the Pioneers scored 11 straight points to increase their lead to 65-50. Donaldson hit one three-pointer and Smith two during the run, the latter coming with 8:15 to play. After the Eagles scored five straight on a layup by Parker Role' and a three-pointer by Teichmann, Tusculum reeled off 12 in a row. Hodnett had five points and Jenkins added four during the run, which was capped by a three-pointer from Smith with 4:14 left for a 77-55 Pioneer lead.
Rogers hit three from three-point range and finished with 12 points for the Eagles, while Role' had 10 points and a team-high seven rebounds. Abraham tallied nine points in 32 minutes, shooting 3-for-8 from beyond the arc, to just miss giving the Eagles all five starters in double figures.
Tusculum will play its final road game of the regular season on Saturday, Feb. 23 at Coker, beginning at 4 p.m. The Pioneers defeated the Cobras 95-78 at Pioneer Arena in the first meeting of the season between the teams on Jan. 12.