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Pioneers down Mars Hill 80-66, remain in top half of SAC standings

Caleb Hodnett slams this dunk home in Tusculum's 80-66 home win over Mars Hill (photo by Chuck Williams)
Caleb Hodnett slams this dunk home in Tusculum's 80-66 home win over Mars Hill (photo by Chuck Williams)

GREENEVILLE, Tenn. --- Trenton Gibson scored in double figures for a seventh straight game to lead the Tusculum University men's basketball team to an 80-66 South Atlantic Conference victory over Mars Hill University Wednesday night at Pioneer Arena.

The Pioneers (15-10, 10-7 SAC) avenge last month's one-point loss to the Lions (10-13, 8-9 SAC) as TU remains tied for fourth place in the league standings.

Tusculum went a perfect 13-of-13 from the free throw line to tie a program single-game record for best percentage (min. 10 FTM) at the charity stripe.  TU won the battle of the boards by a 43-33 margin including 14-9 on the offensive glass.  Brandon Mitchell led the Pioneers with his game-high nine rebounds, including five on the offensive glass to go along with his eight points.

TU's Caleb Hodnett tallied 16 points, six rebounds, three assists and two blocked shots, while Dillon Smith buried five 3-pointers on seven long range attempts for his 15 markers. Smith also matched a career-high with his six rebounds and tallied three steals.

Senior Tariq Jenkins added 13 points and seven rebounds off the bench as the Pioneer reserves out-scored Mars Hill by a 23-0 margin.

MHU's Austin Gilyard finished the game with 19 points, while Jamal Bryant added 17 points.  Ja'Shawn Brooks added 13 points while Nassyr Daniel contributed 11 points, five rebounds and four blocked shots.

Tusculum led wire-to-wire to as the Pioneers have won four of their last five games.  TU scored the first five points of the game as Gibson scored off the opening tip three seconds into the contest and Smith buried a three-pointer 13 seconds later. 

Later in the first half, the Lions trimmed the deficit to one at 15-14 following a Daniel dunk and a jumper by Brooks at the 12:50 mark of the period.

TU would push the lead back out to six at 24-18 thanks to a trey from Joshua Scott and a slam dunk by Hodnett with 8:37 to go.  Mars Hill followed with five straight points to trail 24-23 at the 6:11 mark in the first half.  But the Pioneers went on an 8-0 run thanks to triples from Smith and Zack Dixon, along with a Gibson jumper as TU led 32-22 with 4:39 left before halftime.

Gilyard made a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to six, but buckets by Dixon and Mitchell gave TU its largest lead of the half at 36-26 with 3:12 on the scoreboard. MHU close out the period with an 8-2 spurt including a layup by Matthew Powell just before the buzzer as TU led 38-34 at the intermission.

In the second half, the Pioneers clamped down on Mars Hill's perimeter shooters limiting the Lions to 36 percent shooting in the final period, including 2-of-9 from beyond the three-point arc (22%).

The Lions were still able to keep the deficit in single digits for the first nine minutes of the second half trailing 49-45.  TU went on a 7-0 run thanks to four points from Jenkins and a Smith trey as the Pioneers led 56-45 at the 10:39 mark of the period.

Tusculum later posted a 14-5 run over a span of 3:36 to take its largest lead of the game at 72-54 with four minutes to go.  Mars Hill answered with a late 10-2 spurt to trim the deficit to 74-64 with 1:27 left, but that would be as close as the Lions would get.

TU's 13-of-13 free throw performance matches the shooting efforts at the charity stripe against Catawba and Lenoir-Rhyne in the 2009-10 campaign. TU's 14-of-14 effort at the foul line against Clinch Valley (now UVa-Wise) in 1995 is still the standard bearer for free throw shooting at Tusculum.

Tusculum and Anderson will square off this Saturday for a 4 p.m. battle with the winner taking over sole possession of fourth place.  TU defeated the Trojans 70-54 last month in Greeneville, but the Pioneers are only 1-8 all-time in its previous trips to the Abney Athletic Center.

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