GREENEVILLE, Tenn. --- The Tusculum University women's basketball team will travel from one end of the South Atlantic Conference standings to the other this week as the Pioneers look to keep pace in the four-team scramble atop the league.
Tusculum (17-5, 12-4 SAC) hosts winless Mars Hill on Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. at Pioneer Arena, then travels to first-place Anderson on Saturday at 2 p.m. The Pioneers enter the week tied for third place in the conference with Carson-Newman at 12-4, one game behind second-place Catawba (13-3) and two games back of Anderson (14-2). All four teams won both of their games last week to put more ground between themselves and Newberry, which sits three games back at 9-7 with six games remaining.
Last week, the Pioneers overcame shooting struggles to claim a 69-63 road win at UVa-Wise on Wednesday and a 58-49 home victory against Queens on Saturday. Tusculum has shot under 41 percent from the field in each of its last six games, and has failed to crack 33 percent from three-point range in five straight contests.
Tusculum has clinched a berth in the upcoming SAC Championship tournament, and would assure itself of no worse than a fifth-place finish in the league with two more wins. The Pioneers would be guaranteed a top-four finish with wins in at least four of its last six games, regardless of what Newberry does over the season's final three weeks.
RECAPPING THE WEEK
Tusculum forced UVa-Wise into 31 turnovers as the Pioneers defeated the Cavaliers 69-63 Wednesday evening. Mia Long led the Pioneers (with 17 points as Tusculum scored 26 points off the UVa-Wise turnovers. Maddie Sutton had a game-high 10 rebounds for the Pioneers and Kasey Johnson finished with nine points and seven rebounds.
Tusculum led by as many as 12 points in the third quarter, only to see UVa-Wise chip away and cut the deficit to 64-61 on a layup with 42.2 seconds remaining. However, Johnson went 4-for-4 at the foul line in the final 25 seconds to secure the sweep of the season series by the Pioneers.
As a team, the Pioneers shot 38.7 percent (24-for-62) from the field and 7-for-26 from three-point range, but went 14-for-18 (77.8 percent) from the foul line including 11-for-12 in the fourth quarter. The Pioneers finished the game with 20 steals as a team, but just one came from Long who entered the game leading the SAC and ranking second in Division II in steals per game (3.8).
On Saturday, Long scored eight of her 12 points in the final period as the Pioneers held on for a 58-49 win over Queens. The Royals cut a 10-point third-quarter deficit to one point early in the fourth quarter, but Tusculum's defense held the Royals scoreless for the final 3:18 to finish a sweep of the season series.
Kirsten Click hit four three-pointers and matched Long for the team high with a career-best 12 points for the Pioneers, who shot 32.1 percent (17-for-53) from the field but went 17-for-23 at the free throw line, including 10-for-12 in the decisive fourth quarter. Click, making her second straight start, was 4-for-9 from three-point range as the Pioneers connected on seven three-pointers in 29 attempts as a team.
Mars Hill (2-20, 0-16 SAC) lost its 14th game in a row on Saturday with an 85-49 loss at Catawba. The Lions' last win came at Bluefield State on Dec. 2 by a 73-55 score, and Mars Hill has lost 38 straight conference games since an 80-79 win at Queens on Feb. 17, 2018. The Lions have dropped 56 of the last 57 SAC games since beating Tusculum 69-68 at Pioneer Arena on Feb. 22, 2017.
Junior guard De'Ja Marshall leads the Lions and ranks sixth in the conference in scoring at 15.8 points per game. Marshall is seventh in rebounding at 8.2 per game and is ninth in steals with 1.8 per game. Marshall poured in a season-high 31 points against Carson-Newman last Wednesday and has scored in double figures 18 times, including seven double-doubles. Senior guard Tatum Boggs also averages in double figures for the Lions at 10.3 points per game.
The Lions are last in the conference in scoring offense (57.9 ppg), field goal percentage (.357), rebounds per game (34.1), rebound margin (minus-11.0 per game), scoring defense (80.4 ppg) and opponent field goal percentage (.431). The only category where Mars Hill is in the top half of the league is foul shooting, where the Lions rank second in both free throws made (14.6 per game) and attempted (21.2 per game) and fifth in percentage (.690).
Tusculum has won five consecutive meetings with Mars Hill by an average of 38.8 points per game. Earlier this season, the Pioneers tied a school record with 18 three-pointers in a 94-59 win at Stanford Arena on Jan. 8. The Pioneers have regained the lead in the all-time series with the Lions at 26-25, with a 13-10 lead at home.
Anderson (19-3, 14-2 SAC) extended its winning streak to five games with a 74-54 win at Lenoir-Rhyne on Saturday. Madison Baggett collected a triple-double with 19 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists for the Trojans while Alexy Mollenhauer had 18 points and 18 rebounds in the win.
Mollenhauer, a leading contender for the SAC Player of the Year award, leads the conference in scoring at 21.0 points per game and is third in rebounds at 11.4 per contest. Mollenhauer has scored in double figures in 13 straight games and 20 of 22 contests this season, and has 14 double-doubles including seven in a row. She leads the conference in made three-pointers (64) and is second in foul shooting at 85.9 percent.
As a team, the Trojans lead the SAC in rebounds per game (48.0), rebounding margin (plus-13.2 per game), blocked shots (5.7 per game), scoring defense (58.1 ppg) and opponents field goal percentage (.332). Anderson is second in scoring offense in the league at 74.1 points per game, and the Trojans are a perfect 12-0 at home this year.
Anderson was ranked 19th when the Trojans beat the Pioneers 56-47 at Pioneer Arena on Jan. 4 behind 30 points and 12 rebounds from Mollenhauer. Anderson leads the all-time series with Tusculum 19 wins to seven, with five wins in a row. The Pioneers last beat the Trojans on Jan. 18, 2018 by a 74-51 score, and Tusculum is 4-15 against Anderson in conference games since the Trojans joined the SAC for the 2010-11 season. The Pioneers' only road win in the series came by a 72-71 score on Jan. 18, 2012, with eight straight losses since that victory.
Long ranks ninth in the conference in scoring average at 14.2 points per game, and has reached double figures in five straight games and nine of the last 10. Long, who continues to lead the SAC in steals per game at 3.6 per contest, ranks sixth in the conference in field goal percentage (.485) and third in assists with 3.9 per game.
Johnson, who had taken over the SAC lead in foul shooting following the UVa-Wise game, has dropped back to fourth in the conference at 85.2 percent (46-for-54). Johnson is 11th in the conference in rebounding at 6.6 per game, while Sutton is eighth at 8.0 rebounds per contest.
Despite seeing the least playing time of anyone in the top 10 in the conference in blocked shots per game (11.5 minutes per game), Jasmine Williams ranks seventh in the league in rejections at 1.2 per game.
Tusculum leads the SAC in fewest turnovers per game (15.5) and in steals per game (12.4), while ranking third in three-pointers per game (7.9) and fourth in scoring defense (61.2 ppg). The Pioneers have been outshot by their opponents in six straight games, but have won the turnover battle in each of the last nine games and 20 times in 22 games this season. Tusculum is second in the SAC to Catawba in both turnovers forced per game (23.1) and turnover margin (plus-7.6 per game).
FOLLOW THE GAMES
Brian Stayton describes all the action of Tusculum women's basketball on the Pioneer Sports Network. Fans can listen to the games locally on WSMG Radio at 95.5 FM and 1450 AM, and on-line at jewel955.com. The Pioneer Pre-Game show begins 15 minutes before tip-off, at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday prior to the game with Mars Hill, and at 1:45 p.m. Saturday before the contest at Anderson. Live video and live stats links are also available at www.TusculumPioneers.com.