HARTSVILLE, S.C. --- Five players scored in double figures as Tusculum clinched its first South Atlantic Conference women's basketball tournament berth in five years with a 66-50 win at Coker Saturday afternoon.
Yolizma Cupidan scored 14 points to lead the Pioneers (15-6, 10-5 SAC), who clinched a winning record for the 2017-18 season and will make their first appearance in the SAC Tournament since losing to Anderson in the 2013 championship game. Lovely Locklear added 12 points, five assists and four steals off the bench, Sydney Wilson contributed 11 points and Kasey Johnson and Kendrea Duke added 10 points apiece for the Pioneers, who never trailed against the Cobras (8-14, 5-11 SAC) to move into sole possession of third place in the SAC with five games remaining in the regular season.
Erin Houser led Coker with a game-high 17 points and nine rebounds, while Janea Williams added 11 points, a game-high 15 rebounds and four blocked shots. However, the rest of the Cobras combined to shoot 8-for-31 from the field as Coker finished the game at 34 percent (18-for-53) from the field and 2-for-10 on three-pointers. The Cobras outrebounded the Pioneers 45-28 and scored 17 second-chance points off 20 offensive rebounds, but Coker committed 27 turnovers which the Pioneers converted into 25 points. Tusculum also outscored Coker 36-22 in the paint and had a 29-14 edge in bench scoring in the game.
Cupidan played just 19 minutes before fouling out, but shot 6-for-10 from the field to reach double figures for the fourth time in the last six games. Cupidan also had three of the Pioneers' 19 steals in the game, as eight of the 10 Pioneers to see action had at least one steal. Locklear's 12 points off the bench marked the fourth time this season that she scored in double figures, but the first since against Bluefield State on Nov. 25. Locklear was 6-for-10 from the field and registered a season high with her five assists.
Wilson scored the first basket of the game on Tusculum's opening possession, and back-to-back three-pointers from Wilson and Johnson gave the Pioneers a 10-4 lead just over two minutes into the first quarter. The lead swelled to 14-7 on a steal and layup by Cupidan with 5:55 to go in the quarter, but Coker pulled within a point at 19-18 on a steal and layup by Kaleah Hires with 1:19 remaining. Baskets by Locklear and Wilson in the final minute gave Tusculum a 23-18 lead at the end of the first quarter.
A layup by Williams brought the Cobras within 23-20 in the first minute of the second quarter, but Tusculum responded with a 9-2 run. Duke had a pair of layups during the run, while a basket from Locklear gave the Pioneers their largest lead of the first half at 33-22 with 2:20 to play in the second quarter.
Tusculum led 33-25 at halftime as the Pioneers shot 14-for-33 (42.4 percent) from the field and the Cobras connected on 39.1 percent (9-for-23). Wilson led the Pioneers with nine points in the first half, with six points apiece from Locklear and Duke off the bench. For the Cobras, Williams had six points, 11 rebounds and four blocks in the half while Sydney Shull had a team-high seven points.
Coker cut the Tusculum lead to 34-31 on a basket by Hayley Kropp with 6:53 left in the third quarter, but the Pioneers answered with back-to-back three-pointers from Cupidan and Johnson and a jumper from Wilson to go on top 42-31 with 5:31 remaining in the third quarter. Tusculum's lead stayed around 10 points for the rest of the quarter, with a basket from Cupidan in the final seconds giving the Pioneers a 49-38 edge entering the fourth quarter.
Williams scored on a jumper to start the fourth quarter to bring the Cobras within 49-40, but a basket from Locklear would push the Pioneer lead back into double figures for the rest of the game. Locklear scored six points in the first 3 1/2 minutes of the fourth quarter as the Tusculum lead would swell to 59-44 with 5:39 left.
Wilson scored her 11 points on 5-for-10 shooting from the field, and also contributed three rebounds, three assists and two steals in 29 minutes. Johnson had a team-high six rebounds to go along with her 10 points, while Duke had 10 points and a pair of blocked shots in 14 minutes off the Pioneer bench. Callie Patterson had five points but also had three rebounds and a career-high four steals.
Kropp finished with eight points and five rebounds for the Cobras, who shot 12-for-19 from the foul line (63.2 percent) compared to 7-for-14 by the Pioneers.
Tusculum will visit SAC-leading Carson-Newman on Wednesday at 6 p.m. The Eagles are 23-1 overall and 15-1 in the SAC, including a 90-67 win over the Pioneers in Greeneville on Jan. 10.