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Three Peach Belt teams await Pioneers in busy week

Three Peach Belt teams await Pioneers in busy week

GREENEVILLE, Tenn. --- Off to a 2-0 start for the third consecutive season, the Tusculum University women's basketball team will face a trio of Peach Belt Conference schools this week, starting with the home opener against Clayton State on Tuesday, Nov. 12 at 6 p.m. at Pioneer Arena.

Tusculum picked up a pair of victories at the South Atlantic Conference/Conference Carolinas Challenge over the weekend, beating Belmont Abbey 55-46 and defeating host King 82-62. The Pioneers will participate in another tournament this weekend, taking on Georgia College on Friday at 3:30 p.m. and defending Southeast Region champion North Georgia on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at the UNG Nighthawk Classic.

On Friday, the Pioneers overcame 30 percent shooting by forcing Belmont Abbey into 25 turnovers in a season-opening 55-46 victory. Mia Long had 13 points and Kasey Johnson and Maddie Sutton had 12 points apiece for the Pioneers, who outscored Belmont Abbey 31-26 in the third quarter but just 24-20 in the other three quarters combined. Johnson was 3-for-3 from three-point range for the Pioneers, who scored 16 points off Crusader turnovers but were outrebounded 44-27 in the win.

On Saturday, the Pioneers trailed by as many as 10 points in the first half but outscored King by 22 points in the second half in an 82-62 win. Johnson led Tusculum with 20 points and Jalia Arnwine scored a career-high 19 for the Pioneers, who also received four three-pointers and 18 points from Elle Hutchinson off the bench. Sutton finished the game with 10 rebounds for the Pioneers, who continued to harass the opposition by scoring 22 points off 22 turnovers by the Tornado.

Clayton State participated in the SAC/Peach Belt Conference Challenge over the weekend, beating Wingate 78-74 on Friday but falling 68-61 to the 13th-ranked host Trojans on Saturday. Timi'a Swanson led Clayton State with 18 points and seven rebounds off the bench and Taneria Wilson added 15 points and six of the Lakers' 16 steals in the win. On Saturday, the Lakers trailed Anderson by two points entering the fourth quarter but came up short in their upset bid. Wilson had 19 points and four steals for the Lakers while Dejah Montgomery shot 6-for-7 from the field and finished with 15 points.

Tuesday's game, which tips off at 6 p.m., marks the first time that the Lakers have played at Pioneer Arena. Clayton State is 6-3 all-time against Tusculum, with three of the meetings coming in the NCAA Tournament. The Lakers beat the Pioneers 79-68 in the 2009 regional semifinals at Lenoir-Rhyne, then fell 69-63 to the eventual region champion Pioneers in the 2010 quarterfinals. In 2012, Clayton State held Tusculum to just 12 field goals in a 51-26 quarterfinal win at USC Aiken. The most memorable game in the series was the Pioneers' 63-51 upset of the top-ranked Lakers in a neutral site game at North Georgia on Nov. 25, 2011, which remains Tusculum's only win against a #1 opponent.

Last season, the Pioneers led by 10 points in the fourth quarter but turned the ball over 13 times as the Lakers rallied to tie the game with 34.6 seconds left. However, Callie Patterson drilled the winning three-pointer at the buzzer to give Tusculum a 65-62 win over the hosts.

Wilson is the leading scorer for the Lakers at 17.0 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. The 5-6 senior guard has collected 10 steals in six games and is 5-for-11 from three-point range. Montgomery is second on the team at 11.5 points per game on 8-for-12 shooting, and Christal Williams is averaging 10.0 points and 4.0 assists per contest. As a team, the Lakers have forced 49 turnovers in two games, making 31 steals, but are being outrebounded by an average of 49.0 to 33.5 per game.

Georgia College was in the same SAC/Peach Belt Conference Challenge as Clayton State, but dropped both of their games. The Bobcats fell 86-65 to Anderson on Friday and lost 68-59 to Wingate on Saturday. Against Anderson, Keyonna Wesley was the leading scorer for the Bobcats with 19 points while Harper Vick added 11 and Caroline Wysocki chipped in with 12 points off the bench. Wysocki had a big game off the bench in the loss to Wingate, scoring 21 points and adding six steals in 22 minutes, while Vick also reached double figures with 11 points.

The Bobcats, who finished 10-19 last season, are 2-1 all-time against the Pioneers. Tusculum defeated Georgia College 54-45 in their last meeting on Dec. 30, 2011. In that game, Kendal Baxter drained seven three-pointers and scored 25 points to lead the Pioneers to the win.

North Georgia, ranked 15th in the D2SIDA preseason poll, earned wins over Emmanuel (73-51) and Lees-McRae (79-53) in the Peach Belt/Conference Carolinas Challenge. Kyra Davis led a balanced attack with 12 points in the win over Emmanuel, and Faith Arthur, Kara Groover and Julianne Sutton had 14 points apiece in the victory against Lees-McRae. The Nighthawks held the opposition to 5-for-34 shooting from three-point range, while outrebounding Emmanuel 42-22 and Lees-McRae by a 58-27 margin.

The Nighthawks are the two-time defending Peach Belt Conference regular-season and tournament champions, and won their first-ever Southeast Region championship a year ago before finishing with a 30-5 record. North Georgia returns Sutton and Abbie Franklin to the starting lineup from last year's squad.

Through two games, Johnson is the Pioneers' leading scorer at 16.0 points per game, tied for seventh in the South Atlantic Conference. Johnson is seventh in the conference in three-point field goal percentage at 60.0 percent (6-for-10). Aliyah Miller is tied for third in three-point percentage, having made 2-for-3 from beyond the arc, while Elle Hutchinson is tied for 11th at 50 percent (5-for-10). Mia Long, who led Division II in steals per game last season with 3.96, has 2.5 steals per game through two games to stand in a tie for fifth in the conference. Sutton is the Pioneers' top rebounder with an average of 8.0 per game which is tied for 10th in the SAC.

As a team, Tusculum is second in the conference in scoring defense at 54.0 points per game and in turnovers forced per game at 23.5. The Pioneers' 20 three-pointers are tied for first in the conference with Carson-Newman, and Tusculum is second overall in the conference in free-throw percentage at 79.4 percent.

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