MARS HILL, N.C. --- Yolizma Cupidan finished with game highs of 15 points and nine rebounds and the Tusculum University women's basketball team shut down its third straight opponent as the Pioneers rolled past Mars Hill University 67-32 in South Atlantic Conference action Wednesday evening at Stanford Arena.
The Pioneers (17-6, 9-6 SAC), who clinched a berth in the upcoming SAC Championship tournament with the victory, won their fourth straight game overall and held their third consecutive opponent to 41 points or less. In that span of three games, Tusculum has allowed an average of 34.3 points per game while holding the opposition to 27.2 percent shooting overall and 3-for-35 from three-point range.
Cupidan, who scored in double figures for the eighth straight game, shot 7-for-12 from the field and had seven offensive rebounds as part of her career-tying nine boards for the Pioneers. She was the only player to reach double figures for Tusculum, who received points from all 10 players who saw action and forced the Lions into 25 turnovers. With the win, Tusculum moves a game ahead of idle Lincoln Memorial in the race for fourth place and a home game in the SAC Championship quarterfinal round, with five games left in the regular season.
Alexis Pardue led the Lions (1-19, 0-15 SAC) with 11 points and eight rebounds, but Mars Hill shot 22.4 percent (11-for-49) from the field and just 1-for-15 from three-point range in losing its 17th consecutive game. Pardue was 5-for-10 from the field, and the rest of her teammates combined to shoot just 6-for-39 (15.4 percent) on field goals in the game. The 32 points scored by Mars Hill are the fewest by the Lions in 50 all-time meetings with the Pioneers.
Tusculum led from wire-to-wire for the sixth time this season, taking an 18-7 lead after one quarter and leading 28-15 at the half. The Pioneers outscored the Lions 26-9 in the third quarter to take a 54-24 advantage, then limited Mars Hill to eight points in the fourth quarter to post their sixth consecutive quarter without allowing the opponent to reach double figures in points.
Three-pointers by Cupidan and Jasmine Williams sent Tusculum to a quick 6-0 lead, which grew to 10-4 following two free throws by Kendrea Duke with 7:50 left in the first quarter. After making two of their first three shots, the Lions missed nine straight shots and turned the ball over seven times before Pardue scored just before the buzzer to leave the Lions trailing 18-7 after one quarter.
Despite shooting just 29.4 percent (5-for-17) from the field in the second quarter and missing all nine of their three-point attempts, the Pioneers outscored the Lions 10-8 in the period to carry a 28-15 lead into halftime. Cupidan led all players with nine points and eight rebounds in the first half for Tusculum, which shot just 33.3 percent (11-for-33) from the field but limited Mars Hill to 20 percent (5-for-20). Pardue led the Lions with seven points and five rebounds in the half.
In the third quarter, Callie Patterson, who had missed four games due to injury, returned to the lineup and hit three consecutive three-pointers to give Tusculum a 49-19 lead. The Pioneers went 5-for-11 from three-point range in the quarter and 10-for-19 overall in the period to lead 54-24 heading to the fourth quarter.
Tusculum's defense continued to excel in the fourth quarter, holding Mars Hill without a field goal for the first 5 1/2 minutes until a putback by Jewel Walston cut the Tusculum lead to 62-27. The Pioneers turned the ball over just three times in the second half in outscoring the Lions by a 39-17 margin.
Patterson finished with nine points in 11 minutes off the bench for the Pioneers, who received as many points from their subs (32) as Mars Hill scored in the entire game. Maddie Sutton scored a season-best nine points, tied her season high with seven rebounds and had a season-high four steals in 23 minutes off the bench for Tusculum.
Mya Belton chipped in with seven points, four rebounds and a season-high four steals in 14 minutes off the bench for Tusculum, with Lovely Locklear tying her season and career high with six assists against just one turnover in 27 minutes of action.
Duke had seven points and eight rebounds for the Pioneers, who shot just 4-for-6 from the foul line but hoisted 41 three-point attempts, the second-most in a game in school history behind the SAC-record 45 attempts made by Tusculum in the first meeting with Mars Hill on Jan. 9.
Tusculum finished with a 42-40 advantage in rebounding over Mars Hill, and scored 17 points off 25 Lions turnovers while allowing just three points off their own 13 miscues. The Pioneers blocked eight shots in the game, with seven different players having at least one, and Tusculum made 18 steals as a team while dishing out 20 assists on 26 field goals.
The Pioneers will return home on Saturday, Feb. 16 to host Lenoir-Rhyne at 2 p.m. at Pioneer Arena. Tusculum will celebrate their annual Play4Kay Game as part of Saturday's contest with the Bears.