GREENEVILLE, Tenn. --- The Tusculum University men's basketball team will close out the home portion of the 2019-2020 schedule when they host Carson-Newman and Coker this week at Pioneer Arena.
The Pioneers (16-10, 11-7 South Atlantic Conference) are 4-1 for the month of February and have won five of its last six games including league victories over Mars Hill and Anderson last week.
Tusculum will be looking to avenge road losses last month at Carson-Newman and Coker, while solidifying its position in the top-four of the SAC standings. TU has already guaranteed a spot in next month's SAC Tournament, while also clinching a second straight winning season.
PACK THE ARENA NIGHT
The Pioneers will host its annual "Pack the Arena" Night on Wednesday when they host the Carson-Newman Eagles at 7:30 p.m. Gate proceeds from Wednesday's SAC doubleheader will go to benefit the Make-A-Wish Program, the chosen philanthropy of the Pioneer Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. Also all students in the Greeneville City and Greene County school systems will be admitted free to "Pack the Arena" Night.
Saturday will be Senior Day at Tusculum University as the Pioneers will honor its five seniors during pre-game ceremonies. This year's senior class includes Chad Emmons, Caleb Hodnett, Tariq Jenkins, Cameron King and Dillon Smith.
RECAPPING LAST WEEK
Sophomore guard Trenton Gibson averaged 17.5 points per game during the week to lead the Pioneers to a pair of SAC wins over Mars Hill and Anderson. For his efforts, he was named the SAC Player of the Week for the first time in his career.
Gibson tallied 18 points and dished out five assists in Tusculum's 80-66 home win over Mars Hill. TU went a perfect 13-of-13 from the free throw line and won the battle of the boards by a 43-33 margin. Hodnett posted 16 points, six rebounds, three steals and two blocked shots, while smith buried five 3-pointers for his 15 markers.
The Pioneers never trailed in the game and used a key 14-5 run over a span of 3:36 to push the TU lead out to 72-54 with four minutes remaining.
Jenkins scored 18 points including a pair of three-pointers in a second half run as Tusculum defeated Anderson 74-66. Gibson followed with 17 points and 10 rebounds for his third double-double of the season, while Smith added 15 points and the duo of Hodnett and Brandon Mitchell scored nine points each.
TUSCULUM SCOUTING REPORT
After struggling through the midway portion of its schedule where Tusculum went 1-5 and slipped to sixth place in the conference table, the Pioneers have bounced back and are in sole possession of fourth place in the league and vying for a top-four seed and the opportunity to host a SAC Quarterfinal game.
Coach J.T. Burton's Tusculum teams have prided themselves with a stifling defense, which is allowing 70.3 points per game this year, which is second in the conference. The Pioneers have held the opposition under 80 points on 19 occasions this year, going 15-4 in those games. The Pioneers lead the league in both steals (8.8 spg – 21st in NCAA II) and blocked shots per game (4.0 bpg – 35th in NCAA II). TU's 105 blocks this year are fourth in school history, while its 229 steals are the seventh in the program record book. TU is forcing 15.5 turnovers per game which leads the conference.
Senior guard Tariq Jenkins leads the team in scoring average at 13.9 points per game (18th in SAC), while 2019 SAC Freshman of the Year Trenton Gibson is second on the roster averaging 13.7 points per contest (19th in SAC). Gibson is the team leader in assists at 4.0 helpers per game (5th in SAC) and is shooting a team-best 80.6 percent from the free throw stripe (16th in SAC). Gibson averaged 17.5 points per game in his last two outings and was named the SAC Player of the Week.
Junior forward Brandon Mitchell leads the SAC in blocked shots per game averaging 2.12 per contest (2.12 in NCAA II). His team-best 8.0 rebounds per game average is fourth in the conference and is fifth on the team in scoring averaging 9.7 points per outing. He also leads the team with eight double-doubles.
Senior guard Dillon Smith has also stepped it up of late offensively averaging 16.4 points per game in his last five contests to raise his scoring average to 10.4 ppg. He is shooting a blistering 90 percent from the foul line.
Tusculum forward Caleb Hodnett is fourth on the team in scoring, averaging 9.8 points per game, but is second on the team in rebounds pulling down 6.5 boards per outing (11th in SAC).
SCOUTING THE OPPOSITION
The Pioneers will take on long-time nemesis Carson-Newman on Wednesday in the 148th record meeting in the all-time series. Tusculum will be looking avenge last month's 72-68 loss at Mossy Creek where the Eagles shot 52 percent from the floor, one of only five times this year TU has allowed to shoot better than 50 percent.
C-N (9-15, 6-12 SAC) finds itself in a tie for ninth place in the conference and are two games out of climbing back into the hunt to qualify for the SAC postseason. The Eagles have gone 3-6 since the last meeting the Pioneers, including Saturday's 74-61 home loss to Catawba.
This year's "Battle of US 11E" will pit two of the top rebounding teams in the country. The Pioneers lead all of NCAA Division II in offensive rebounding, averaging 16.54 per contest. TU is also the top team in the league in rebound margin at +9.7 which is also third in the country. The Eagles lead the SAC in total rebounds per game averaging 41.58 boards per contest, which is 12th-best in the nation.
The Pioneers will also be looking to avenge last month's 67-58 road loss at Coker when TU hosts the Cobras on Saturday. Coker enters the week at 6-16 overall and 5-13 in the South Atlantic Conference.
Coker is 12th in the South Atlantic Conference in scoring at 68.0 points per game, while also ranking fourth in scoring defense allowing opponents 77.6 points per game. Coker is also 11th in the conference in rebounding at 32.9 rebounds per game, while also ranking seventh in rebounding defense at 37.5 rebounds per game. Coker is also 12th in the conference in assists per game (10.8), 10th in steals per game (5.8) and fifth in blocks per game at 3.3.
Chandler Lindsey leads the Cobras in scoring (12.0 ppg), while Malcolm Kennedy is second on the team in offensive production (11.3 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.