GREENEVILLE, Tenn. --- The Tusculum University men's basketball team will open their South Atlantic Conference season this week with a pair of home match-ups against the two teams that appeared in the SAC Championship game a year ago.
The Pioneers will host Lenoir-Rhyne University on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m., followed by Saturday's 4 p.m. clash against 2019 SAC Tournament champion Catawba College.
Tusculum (4-2, 0-0 SAC) is coming off a thrilling 60-57 overtime win at North Georgia on Saturday. Freshman Joshua Scott hit the go-ahead three-pointer with two minutes left in overtime and senior center Cameron King drained two free throws with 22 seconds remaining to seal the TU victory. TU senior Tariq Jenkins led the Pioneers with 19 points, while graduate student Caleb Hodnett accounted for 15 points.
Lenoir-Rhyne is off to a 4-1 start to this year including last Wednesday's 103-99 road win at Clayton State. R.J. Gunn poured in a career-high 36 points as he shot 15-of-26 from the floor, scoring 29 points in the second half.
Catawba moved its season record to 4-1 with Saturday's 94-88 home-opening win over Young Harris College. Catawba's Devin Cooper led the way with 23 points while Malik Constantine added 16 points off the bench. The Catawba Indians have won four in a row, including last Tuesday's 94-82 road win at 13th-ranked Augusta.
This year's league lid-lifter with Lenoir-Rhyne will be a rematch of last year's SAC Quarterfinal matchup where the Bears came away with 70-58 win. L-R followed that result with an 84-75 upset win over top-seeded Queens University of Charlotte, before falling to Catawba, 71-67 in the SAC Championship game.
Catawba will open its league schedule on Tuesday when they host Newberry College in Salisbury, North Carolina.
SCOUTING THE PIONEERS
Tusculum head coach J.T. Burton has his Pioneers primed to begin a challenging 22-game conference slate starting with this week's pair of home contests against Lenoir-Rhyne and Catawba, who both advanced to the NCAA Division II Tournament last season.
After winning its first two games by an average of 24 points, Tusculum next four have been decided by 11 points total including Saturday's three-point win at North Georgia.
The Pioneers are one of the top rebounding teams in the country, boasting a rebound margin of +16.5 and continue to lead the nation in offensive rebounding, averaging 22.5 boards on the offensive glass per contest.
Jenkins is one of four players who are averaging double-digit scoring this season, posting 15.3 points per contest, which is 16th in the league. Trenton Gibson, the 2019 SAC Freshman of the Year, is second on the team in both scoring and rebounding, while leading TU in assists averaging five per contest (3rd in SAC). His 13.8 points per game average is 23rd in the league while his 7.7 rebounds per game tally is seventh in the conference including his game-high 10 boards on Saturday at North Georgia.
Junior forward Brandon Mitchell leads the SAC in rebounding averaging 9.8 boards per game, including a nation's best 5.8 offensive rebounds per outing average. He also continues to lead the league in blocked shots averaging 2.2 rejections per game. Mitchell is scoring 12.5 points per game (30th in SAC) while his .537 field goal percentage is best on the team and 17th in the conference.
Hodnett is fourth on the roster with his 12 points per game average and is 14th in the league pulling down 6.7 rebounds per game.
FOLLOW THE GAME
The "Voice of the Pioneers" Brian Stayton will describe all the action on the Pioneer Sports Network. Fans can listen to the game locally on WSMG Radio at 95.5 FM and 1450 AM, and on-line at www.TusculumPioneers.com. The Pioneer Pre-Game show begins 15 minutes before tip-off.
Live video and live stats for all Tusculum home basketball games can be viewed on the Pioneers' social media platforms. All links are available at www.TusculumPioneers.com with video available on the Tusculum Athletics YouTube page.
Tickets for Tuesday and Saturday's games are $7 for adults with children ages 12 and under will be admitted FREE. Gates open one hour before the first game.