ANDERSON, S.C. --- Anderson University moved into sole possession of first place in the South Atlantic Conference as the Trojans edged Tusculum University 54-51 in a SAC women's basketball showdown Saturday afternoon at the Abney Athletic Center.
Madison Baggett scored a season-high 22 points for the 17th-ranked Trojans (20-4, 15-3 SAC), who finished off the sweep of the season series with the Pioneers (18-6, 13-5 SAC) by holding Tusculum to 30.2 percent (19-for-63) from the field and 5-for-21 from three-point range. Reigning SAC Player of the Year Alexy Mollenhauer was held to just six points on 3-for-10 shooting, but pulled a game-high 13 rebounds for Anderson, which held Tusculum without a point for the final 2:27 of regulation.
Mia Long led the Pioneers with 14 points and Kasey Johnson (12 points, 11 rebounds) and Maddie Sutton (11 points, 11 rebounds) each posted a double-double for the Pioneers, who fell back into fourth place by a game behind Catawba and Carson-Newman, each at 14-4. Tusculum, which can finish no worse that fifth in the league, leads Newberry (11-7) by two games in the battle for the fourth seed in the SAC Championship tournament and a quarterfinal home game.
Tusculum trailed by as many as eight points in the third quarter, but came back to tie the game on a layup by Long with 2:27 left. Anderson regained the lead for good on their ensuing possession on a basket by Taylor Hair, and Tusculum would miss its next four shots from the field. The Pioneers had the ball with a chance to tie in the closing seconds, but a shot clock violation with 1.8 seconds left turned the ball over the Anderson and enabled the Trojans to run out the clock.
Anderson went out to a 7-3 lead after three minutes, but Tusculum took its first lead on a layup by Long with 5:50 to go in the first quarter. A bucket by Sutton gave the Pioneers a 10-7 lead with 5:20 left in the quarter, but Tusculum went scoreless for the final 2:53 of the period as Anderson took a 16-12 lead after one quarter.
A three-pointer from Jalia Arnwine brought the Pioneers back to within 21-19 with 7:43 left in the first half, and a three-point play by Johnson gave Tusculum a 22-21 lead with 7:01 to go in the half. The Pioneers' 8-0 run was broken on a Baggett three-pointer with 5:28 left in the half, triggering an 8-0 run for the Trojans as a three from Valencia Carroll pushed Anderson ahead 29-24 with 3:35 in the half. The Pioneers missed eight of their final nine shots in the second quarter, scoring only on a layup by Marta Rodrigues with 2:51 to play as Anderson carried a 31-26 lead into intermission.
Baggett led the Trojans with 13 points on 4-for-8 shooting to go along with seven rebounds and three assists in the opening half. Anderson shot 35.3 percent (12-for-34) from the field and went 4-for-13 from three-point range, with Baggett hitting 3-for-6 from beyond the arc. Johnson had six points and seven rebounds for the Pioneers in the first half, with Sutton adding six points and six boards as Tusculum shot 28.1 percent (9-for-32) from the field and 3-for-12 from long range.
The Trojans took their largest lead of the game at 34-26 on a three-pointer by Hair with 9:08 left in the third quarter, but the Pioneers chipped away and cut the deficit to 40-38 on a three-pointer from Kirsten Click with 5:23 to go in the third. Sutton capped a 12-3 run by converting a three-point play with 4:08 left in the third as the Pioneers regained the lead at 41-40, but Tusculum would go scoreless the remainder of the quarter as Anderson scored six in a row, including a three from Baggett and a layup by Nelliah Wilson in the closing seconds to give the Trojans a 46-41 lead heading to the fourth.
Baggett drilled another three-pointer with 9:14 to go for a 49-41 Anderson lead, but Anderson would go scoreless for more than 4 1/2 minutes as the Pioneers pulled back within 49-47 on a basket by Long with 5:35 to go. After missing two chances for the tie, Long evened the game at 51-51 with 2:27 to go but the deadlock would last for just 17 seconds. Anderson shot just 3-for-9 from the field in the fourth quarter but held the Pioneers to 4-for-15 shooting in the period and 0-for-3 from three-point territory.
Johnson shot 4-for-12 from the field and 3-for-3 from the foul line en route to her fourth double-double of the season and the 14th of her career. Sutton was 3-for-9 from the floor and 5-for-5 at the line to earn her sixth double-double of the year and seventh of her career. Long, who shot 6-for-13 from the field, also had two steals and moved within 38 points of becoming the 19th player in program history to score 1,000 career points and the third this season.
Hair finished with 10 points for the Trojans in 30 minutes and had three blocked shots, while McKenzie Gadson contributed eight points and six boards in 34 minutes. Both teams leaned heavily on their starters, with Anderson receiving eight points from its bench and Tusculum six. Anderson had a slim 41-40 edge in rebounding and each team turned the ball over 12 times.
Tusculum will return to Pioneer Arena to host local rival Carson-Newman on Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. The Eagles (18-6, 14-4 SAC) finished a sweep of the season series with Catawba by beating the Indians 96-86 at home on Saturday for their fourth consecutive victory. Tusculum beat Carson-Newman 71-66 in Jefferson City in the first meeting of the season between the teams on Jan. 15, and Carson-Newman brings a seven-game road winning streak into Wednesday's contest.