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Tusculum pits SAC's top defense against league's top offensive teams this week

Tusculum pits SAC's top defense against league's top offensive teams this week

GREENEVILLE, Tenn. --- The Tusculum University men's basketball team will face two of the top offensive clubs in the South Atlantic Conference this week as the Pioneers hit the midway point of the league schedule.

Tusculum will host long-time rival and SAC front-runner Lincoln Memorial University on Wednesday before traveling to Salisbury, North Carolina for a Saturday rematch against Catawba College.

The Pioneers are locked in a three-way logjam for third place in the conference standings with Catawba and Newberry College.

RECAPPING LAST WEEK

Tusculum snapped a season-long three-game losing skid with Saturday's convincing 77-53 home win over Wingate University.  The Pioneers placed 11 players in the scoring column as TU led wire-to-wire to post its third straight victory over the Bulldogs and its largest margin of victory in the history of the series.

Tusculum opened the game on a 26-8 run and held Wingate to just 27 percent shooting for the game as the Pioneers improved to 5-1 at home this season.  Senior guard Dillon Smith led the way with his 14 points, Caleb Hodnett tallied 13 points and nine rebounds, while rookie Joshua Scott notched 11 markers in the TU win.

Tusculum continued its dominance on the boards, out-rebounding Wingate by a 54-37 margin and added to its NCAA leading offensive rebound total with 21 boards. The Pioneers have accounted for over 20 offensive rebounds on six occasions this year including 21 each in its last two outings.

PREVIEWING THIS WEEK

Lincoln Memorial (17-1, 10-0 SAC) comes to Greeneville riding the longest winning streak in the country at 17 in a row.  The Railsplitters are ranked third in NCAA Division II and lead the SAC in 14 statistical categories including scoring offense (93.4 ppg – 8th in NCAA II), scoring margin (+24.4 – 2nd in NCAA II) and are second in the league in scoring defense (68.9 ppg – 50th in NCAA II).  Included in those numbers are NCAA II leading field goal percentage defense (.374) and defensive rebounds per game (32.78 rpg).

The Railsplitters picked up its 12th 20-point win of the year with Saturday's 90-68 road victory at Anderson University. LMU knocked down 11 three-pointers and used a 17-3 run in the first half to defeat the Trojans. Junior Devin Whitfield recorded a double-double with 24 points and a season-high 11 rebounds, while senior Rhondi Hackett added a season-best 20 markers shooting 8-of-13 from the floor with a pair of triples.

Sophomore guard Courvoisier McCauley is LMU's top scorer this year averaging 20.6 points per game which is third in the league and 41st in the nation. He was limited to a season-low nine points on Saturday at Anderson snapping a string of 24 consecutive games in double figures dating back to last year.  McCauley has scored 20 or more points on nine occasions this season including a career-best 44 points against Lenoir-Rhyne last month.  He leads the SAC in 3.39 three-pointers made per contest (20th in NCAA II) and three-point percentage (.455 – 20th in NCAA II).

Whitfield is second on the team in scoring, averaging 17.5 points per game (10th in SAC), while sophomore Cameron Henry is third with his 12.9 points per game average, while leading LMU in rebounding with 7.9 boards per game (4th in SAC).

The last time LMU visited Greeneville, the Pioneers posted a 78-76 win and ended a 24-game losing streak to their in-state rivals.

The Catawba Indians (11-5, 6-4 SAC) had its seven-game winning streak halted by LMU two weeks ago, sparking three straight losses entering this week's action and slip into third place with Tusculum and Newberry.

That Catawba seven-game winning streak started in November with a 75-71 win over Tusculum at Pioneer Arena.  The Indians led by as many as 14 points in the second half and held a 12-point advantage with five minutes remaining. TU used an 18-6 run including a 9-0 spurt to tie the game at 71-71. But Catawba converted two turnovers into four points in the final 35 seconds to notch the victory.

Devin Cooper leads the Indians scoring 19.4 points per game including a season-high 37 points on Saturday in a 91-85 home loss to Lenoir-Rhyne University. He buried six 3-pointers and went a perfect 7-of-7 at the foul line against the Bears.

In this year's previous encounter with TU, Marcell Haskett led Catawba with 20 points, while Cooper added 19 points and dished out six assists.

Catawba, who will host Anderson on Wednesday, is second in the league in scoring offense posting 89.1 points per game. But the Indians are next to last in scoring defense allowing 85 points per game including 97 ppg during its current losing streak.

TUSCULUM LEADERBOARD

The Pioneers would counter the SAC's top-two scoring offenses this week with the conference's No. 1 scoring defense and the nation's top-rebounding team.  The Pioneers are allowing a league-best 68.2 points per game (43rd in NCAA II) and are limiting teams to just 42 percent shooting.

Tusculum leads the country in rebound margin at +12.5 including 18.06 offensive rebounds per contest, which is tops for all three NCAA divisions.  TU's 43.2 total rebounds per game average is second in the league and sixth in the nation.  The Pioneers are also tops in the conference in steals, posting 9.4 thefts per outing (14th in NCAA II).

Senior Tariq Jenkins leads the Pioneers in scoring averaging 13.9 points per game (20th in SAC) but the Riverdale, Georgia product has been struggling of late averaging just 8.8 ppg in his last five outings.

Trenton Gibson, the 2019 SAC Freshman of the Year, is second on the roster in scoring with 12 points per outing, but leads TU in assists (3.7 apg – 8th in SAC), free throw shooting (.798) and steals per game (1.6 spg – T10th in SAC).  Gibson, a sophomore from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, is TU's second-leading rebounder with 6.3 boards per game (11th in SAC), while Hodnett (Adolphus, Ky.) is third on the club with his 6.2 rebounds per game average (13th in SAC) to go along with his 9.8 points per contest.

Junior forward Brandon Mitchell has been pacing the Pioneers on the glass with his team-leading 8.2 rebounds per game (3rd in SAC), including a SAC-best 3.94 offensive boards per outing (7th in NCAA II).  The Virginia Beach, Virginia native continues to lead the conference in blocked shots, swatting 2.3 per game (14th in NCAA II) including 3.71 per contest in his last seven appearances.

Smith (Lexington, Tenn.) has upped his offensive output of late averaging 13.5 points per game and improve his seasonal average to 8.6 ppg.

FOLLOW THE GAMES

The "Voice of the Pioneers" Brian Stayton describes all the action of Tusculum basketball on the Pioneer Sports Network. Fans can listen to the games locally on WSMG Radio at 95.5 FM and 1450 AM, and on-line at jewel955.com. Live video and live stats links are also available at www.TusculumPioneers.com.

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