GREENEVILLE, Tenn. --- Tusculum's Trenton Gibson recorded a game-high 19 points to lead the fourth-seeded Pioneers to an 86-65 victory over No. 5-seed Anderson in a quarterfinal match-up of the 2020 Pilot/Flying J South Atlantic Conference Men's Basketball Championship Wednesday night at Pioneer Arena.
Tusculum (19-12) snaps a six-game losing streak in the SAC postseason and advances to the semifinal round for the first time since 2011. Awaiting TU is top-seeded and No. 2 nationally-ranked Lincoln Memorial who knocked off No. 8-seed Mars Hill, 101-65 for the Railsplitters' 30th consecutive win.
Tusculum and LMU will square off this Saturday afternoon at 5 p.m. from Timmons Arena on the campus of Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina. The winner of that contest will advance to the SAC Championship game on Sunday.
The Pioneers utilized a 9-0 run early in the second half to forge out to a 44-32 lead and led by double figures for the remainder of the game.
TU finished the contest shooting 52 percent from the floor including 9-of-14 from three-point territory for 64.3 percent which ties for the second-best long-range shooting night in school history. TU shot 9-of-14 from beyond the arc at Newberry on Jan. 20, 2010.
Tusculum's Zack Dixon poured in a season-best 17 points off the bench as he went 6-of-9 from the field including 3-of-3 from the three-point land and connected on both of his free throw attempts. Senior Dillon Smith tallied 10 points, four assists and two steals, while freshman Joshua Scott earned a start as he scored five points and led all players with a season-high 10 rebounds.
Caleb Hodnett, playing in his final game at Pioneer Arena, finished the game with a dunk on his final bucket on the TU hardwood as he posted nine points and eight boards.
Anderson's Josh Livingston led the Trojans with 16 points off the bench, while Shawn Benard and Satchel Hester tallied 13 points apiece in the loss as AU ends its season at 17-12.
The Pioneers out-rebounded AU by a 44-24 margin including 12-3 on the offensive boards resulting in 22 second chance points and only one for the Trojans.
The two teams slugged it out in a defensive battle early as Anderson scored the first four points of the game and led 10-4 at the 14:58 mark of the opening half. The Trojans went on in a shooting drought as TU went on an 8-0 run over a five minute span to take its first lead of the game at 12-10 on a Dixon triple.
The Trojans followed with five straight points on an Alex Keel three-pointers and a Livingston jumper for a 15-12 Anderson lead. The lead exchanged hands three more times before Tusculum got a Scott trey at the 5:47 mark to take the lead for good at 21-19. With TU in front 25-23, the Pioneers scored six in a row including a three-point play by Hodnett with 1:40 left in the half for a 31-23 advantage, Tusculum's biggest lead of the period.
But Anderson finished the half with a 7-2 run including a three-pointer by Crosby James from 35-feet out just before the buzzer as Tusculum led 33-30 at the intermission.
Both teams went scoreless for the first 2:40 of the second half before Tariq Jenkins connected on a pair of free throws and Hester answered with a jumper as TU led 35-32 with 17:05 remaining.
Anderson's Livingston later drained a triple to make it a 47-37 contest with 12:52 left but that would be as close as the visitors would get. Tusculum would push the lead out to 23 points on two occasions late before settling for the 86-65 win as the Pioneers won all three meetings this year against the Trojans.
The last time Tusculum played in SAC semifinals was Mar. 5, 2011 in Hickory, North Carolina at the Catawba Valley Community College were the Pioneers lost 62-56 to top-seed Lincoln Memorial. Tusculum has won in the semifinal round on two occasions including 2009 in beating second-seeded Newberry 79-61. TU also upset top-seeded Catawba, 76-72 in the 2005 semis en route to capturing its only SAC Tournament crown.