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Tusculum wins third straight in 62-52 victory over Eagles

Dillon Smith scored 22 points to lead Tusculum to a 62-52 home win over Carson-Newman (photo by Chuck Williams)
Dillon Smith scored 22 points to lead Tusculum to a 62-52 home win over Carson-Newman (photo by Chuck Williams)

GREENEVILLE, Tenn. --- Dillon Smith poured in 22 points including 17 in the second half to lead the Tusculum University men's basketball team to a 62-52 South Atlantic Conference win over arch-rival Carson-Newman University Wednesday night at Pioneer Arena.

Tusculum (17-10, 12-7 SAC) records its third win in a row and sixth of its last seven to remain in fourth place in the league standings.  TU learned earlier in the day that they were ranked 10th in this year's inaugural NCAA Division II Southeast Region rankings. The Pioneers also avenge last month's 72-68 loss to the Eagles to split the season series as TU has won three of the last four meetings against C-N.  Over 1,400 fans were in attendance for Tusculum's annual "Pack the Arena" Night.

Smith matched his career-high performance at UVa-Wise two weeks ago as he went 9-of-15 from the floor with three 3-pointers. TU's Brandon Mitchell notched his team-leading ninth double-double of the year with his 11 points and 12 rebounds, while Trenton Gibson added 10 points, eight rebounds and four assists.

Carson-Newman's Kaleb Wallace led the Eagles (9-16, 6-13 SAC) with 11 points off the bench, while EJ Bush finished with 10 points and five rebounds.

The Eagles missed their first 11 shots in the opening 9:11 of the game, but Tusculum could only muster an 8-2 lead as freshman Zack Dixon buried a three-pointer.  TU pushed the lead out to eight points on three occasions in the first half including 20-12 with 4:22 remaining in the period.

C-N battled back with an 8-0 spurt to tie the game at 20-20 following a Wallace layup at the 1:58 mark.  Smith hit a three-pointer, while Wallace answered with a triple of his own. Two free throws by TU's Caleb Hodnett gave the Pioneers a 25-23 lead, but a Bryant Thomas layup tied the game with 55 seconds left as the two teams went into the locker room deadlocked at 25-25.

Tusculum and Carson-Newman exchanged early buckets to start the second half before TU scored six in a row to take a 33-27 lead with 16:09 remaining.  C-N sophomore and former Pioneer Zailan Peeler drained a three-pointer to cut the deficit in half at 33-30. Tusculum answered with a 7-0 run including five points by Smith and a Mitchell layup as the Pioneers led 40-30 with 12:45 to go.  Peeler scored a basket, but Smith followed with a pull-up three-pointer as TU had its largest lead of the night at 43-32 with 11:31 on the clock.

C-N went on a 7-2 run to trim the lead to six at 45-39 thanks to a Tripp Davis jumper with 8:32 remaining.  Tusculum led again by eight (51-43) on a Gibson jumper, but Wallace answered with his third 3-pointer of the evening to pull the Eagles to within 51-46 with under four minutes to go.

Both teams would go scoreless for the next minute before Mitchell broke the drought with a pair of free throws with 2:37 remaining. Bush made one of two free throws with 2:11 left, but Mitchell scored a jumper in the paint.  The Eagles came up empty on its next two trips down the court and TU senior Tariq Jenkins converted a fastbreak layup to lead by 10 again at 57-47 with 42 seconds to go. 

The teams exchanged free throws before Jaylan McGill hit a three-pointer with 21 seconds left to cut the TU lead to 59-52.  But Smith made one of two free throws and scored on a layup off a steal by rookie Keaston Brown to put the game away.

Tusculum shot 37.1 percent for the game, while Carson-Newman shot 33 percent including 7-of-24 in the second half (29%). TU held a 43-36 advantage on the boards and shot 11-of-14 from the free throw line for 79 percent.

The Pioneers will host Coker University on Saturday at 4 p.m. which will be Tusculum's Senior Day. TU will honor seniors Chad Emmons, Caleb Hodnett, Tariq Jenkins, Cameron King and Dillon Smith in pre-game ceremonies immediately following the women's game against Coker.

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