GREENEVILLE, Tenn. --- Tusculum University's Trenton Gibson scored a team-high 19 points as the Pioneers led wire-to-wire in a 70-58 home win over Lenoir-Rhyne University Tuesday night in the South Atlantic Conference opener for both teams.
Tusculum (5-2, 1-0 SAC) avenges last year's SAC Quarterfinal loss to Lenoir-Rhyne on TU's home floor as the Bears slip to 4-2 on the season and 0-1 in the league. L-R is ranked ninth, while Tusculum is listed 10th in this week's D2SIDA Southeast Region poll.
Tariq Jenkins added 15 points for the Pioneers, while Dillon Smith posted 13 markers, five rebounds and five steals. TU's Caleb Hodnett accounted for a season-high 12 rebounds while matching a career-best with three blocked shots.
Lenoir-Rhyne's R.J. Gunn followed his career-high 36-point effort last week with a game-high 22 points and grabbed eight rebounds in the loss.
Tusculum continued its dominance on the glass, out-rebounding L-R by a 55-36 margin including 18-9 on the offensive boards resulting in 16 second chance points. The Pioneers' 55 rebounds are a season-high and are the ninth-most in school history.
TU went 25-of-32 at the free throw stripe for 78.1 percent including 10-of-12 from Gibson as he also pulled down seven rebounds including five offensive boards.
Tusculum finished the game shooting 33.9 percent from the field (21-of-62) and went just 3-of-17 from three-point territory. L-R shot 29.3 percent from the floor (17-of-58) and attempted 31 three-point shots, making seven of them for 23 percent.
With Tusculum leading 17-16 with 10 minutes left in the first half, the Pioneers went on a 13-1 run over a span of seven-and-a-half minutes to take a 30-17 advantage at the 2:38 mark following a pair of free throws from DyQuavis Wilkins. Lenoir-Rhyne would whittle the deficit to 10 when Darius Simmons was fouled shooting a three-pointer and made two of three free throw tries with 0.3 seconds left in the half and headed to the locker room trailing 33-23.
The Bears got as close as eight points on three occasions in the first four minutes of the second period including 37-29 after two made free throws from Zim Fields.
Tusculum responded with a 10-2 run including a dunk by Hodnett and a fast-break layup from Jenkins as the Pioneers led 47-31 with 12:37 remaining.
TU would increase the lead to as much as 53-36 with 9:11 left following a bucket in the paint by Justin Mitchell. The Pioneers would go ice cold from the floor after the Mitchell bucket would close out the game going 1-of-9 from the floor.
The Bears answered with a 12-4 spurt including three-pointers from Gunn and Mason Hawks in cutting the TU lead to 57-48 with 4:14 remaining.
Lenoir-Rhyne was forced to foul and Tusculum made them pay connecting on 15 of their last 20 trips to the charity stripe including a string of 11 in a row to put the game away.
The Pioneers return to action this Saturday when they host defending SAC Tournament champion Catawba College (No. 4 in D2SIDA SE Region Poll) for a 4 p.m. contest at Pioneer Arena.