HARROGATE, Tenn. --- Tusculum University outscored Lincoln Memorial University by 20 points over a 13-minute span of the second half as the Pioneers earned a 67-48 victory over the Railsplitters Wednesday night in South Atlantic Conference women's basketball action at Tex Turner Arena.
Kasey Johnson hit a career-high five three-pointers and scored a game-high 21 points for the Pioneers (21-6, 16-5 SAC), who moved into a position to clinch the number-two seed in the upcoming SAC Championship tournament with a win in their regular-season finale Saturday at Wingate. Mia Long scored all of her 13 points in the second half and Maddie Sutton just missed her fourth straight double-double with 11 points and a team-high nine rebounds as the Pioneers reached 21 wins for the first time since going 21-9 and winning the SAC championship in 2010-11. Tusculum's 21 wins in the regular season are its most since 2008-09, when the Pioneers went 23-4 in the regular season and 26-6 overall, and its 16 conference victories are the most for the Pioneers since joining the SAC for the 1999-2000 season.
As a team, the Pioneers sank 12 three-pointers in 38 attempts and shot 35.5 percent from the field (22-for-62) in the game. Meanwhile, the Tusculum defense held Lincoln Memorial to 29.8 percent (14-for-47) from the floor and forced the Railsplitters into 16 turnovers, which the Pioneers converted into 20 points. Tusculum matched its season low with seven turnovers, marking the fourth time in the last eight games that the Pioneers turned the ball over fewer than 10 times.
Lauren Flowers led Lincoln Memorial (10-15, 9-12 SAC) with 15 points and Sydney Newsome added 13 for the Railsplitters, who have clinched a berth in the SAC Championship tournament but can finish anywhere from sixth to eighth depending on the outcome of Saturday's games. The 49 points scored by the Railsplitters were their fewest in a game against the Pioneers since a 66-47 Tusculum win on Nov. 28, 2012. Tusculum swept Lincoln Memorial in the season series for the first time since 2010-11, and the 19-point win is the Pioneers' largest on the road against the Railsplitters since an 83-58 victory on Jan. 7, 2009.
Tusculum was tied 29-29 with LMU following a layup by Shermeria Quarles with 6:21 left in the third quarter, but the Pioneers would outscore the Railsplitters 28-8 over the next 12 minutes, 48 seconds to go up 57-37 on a basket by Johnson with 3:33 left in the fourth quarter. Johnson scored 11 of her 21 points in the fourth quarter as the Pioneers shot 52.9 percent (9-for-17) in the period while holding the Railsplitters to just two field goals in the final quarter.
Johnson shot 8-for-11 from the field and 5-for-8 from three-point range to surpass her previous career best of four three-pointers set on five occasions. Her 21 points mark the fifth time this season and 13th time in her career that Johnson has reached 20 points in a game. Johnson's fifth three-pointer of the game came with 1:46 left in the fourth quarter and made her the 10th player in school history to make 100 threes in a career. Earlier in the game, Johnson became the 14th player in program history to surpass 1,200 career points, ending the night with 1,214 points in a Pioneer uniform.
Mya Belton contributed 11 points in 16 minutes off the bench for the Pioneers, while the Railsplitters' Lexi Kiser duplicated Belton's numbers including a 6-for-6 effort at the free-throw line. LMU shot 4-for-11 from the foul line through three quarters and needed a 9-for-10 effort in the fourth to end the game at 61.9 percent (13-for-21).
Both teams struggled mightily from the floor in the first quarter, with Tusculum shooting 3-for-15 and LMU 2-for-14 in the period. The game was tied 9-9 after the opening quarter as three-pointers from the Pioneers' Jalia Arnwine and Mya Belton were answered by the Railsplitters' Newsome and Flowers.
Tusculum opened the second quarter on a 14-1 run to take its largest lead of the first half at 23-10 on a basket by Sutton with 4:14 left. The Railsplitters responded with seven points in a row before a three from Johnson gave Tusculum a 26-17 lead with 1:18 left in the half. Newsome drilled a three-pointer with 31 seconds left as LMU went to the locker room trailing 26-20.
Johnson hit all three of her shots in the first half, including two three-pointers, to lead the Pioneers with eight points. Sutton, Arnwine and Belton each had six points in the first half for the Pioneers, who shot 9-for-31 (29.0 percent) overall and 5-for-20 from three-point range in the half. Newsome led the Railsplitters with 11 points, but LMU shot 21.4 percent (6-for-28) from the field as a team. The Railsplitters had a 26-18 rebounding edge in the first half, but the Pioneers committed just three turnovers as a team.
Long, who was held scoreless in the first half, hit her first field goal with 8:21 left in the third quarter to extend Tusculum's lead to 29-22, but a basket from Newsome, a three from Flowers and a bucket by Quarles tied the game 29-29 with 6:21 left in the period. The Tusculum lead was 33-32 with 5:29 remaining in the quarter after another three from Flowers, but Long and Belton hit back-to-back three-pointers as the Pioneer lead increased to 41-32 with 3:39 left. The run would stretch to 11 points as the Pioneers went to the fourth leading 44-34.
Tusculum would dash any comeback hopes for LMU as Johnson and Sutton hit threes to start the fourth and Long added a basket for a 52-34 Pioneer lead with 6:06 left. Maggie Jachimczuk broke a drought of nearly six minutes with a three-pointer with 4:50 to go, but Tusculum would lead by as many as 21 points down the stretch.
Long, who became the 19th player in program history to reach 1,000 career points on Saturday against Coker, shot 3-for-10 from the field but went 6-for-8 at the foul line, while adding six rebounds, five assists and a steal. Sutton had a season-high four steals for the Pioneers, while Arnwine's two three-pointers extended her streak of consecutive games with a three to 16. The Pioneers were credited with 21 assists on their 22 field goals, and finished the game with a 40-38 advantage in rebounding over the Railsplitters.
Tusculum will close its regular season on Saturday at Wingate, beginning at 2 p.m. The Bulldogs (16-12, 10-11 SAC) are also in a battle for positions six through eight in the conference standings with LMU and Lenoir-Rhyne, taking sole possession of sixth with a 56-44 win at Queens on Wednesday. The Bulldogs, who have not won back-to-back games since January 1, lost 77-57 to Tusculum at Pioneer Arena on Jan. 18 in their first meeting of the season with the Pioneers.