BELMONT, N.C. --- Brandon Mitchell scored on a layup just before time expired as Tusculum rallied from a 15-point second-half deficit to defeat Belmont Abbey 69-67 in men's basketball action Saturday afternoon at the Wheeler Center.
Donovan Donaldson scored a season-high 21 points and had a career-best eight rebounds and Peyton Woods added 20 points for the Pioneers (1-3), who gave first-year head coach Nick Pasqua his first career victory.
DeQuan Abrom led the Crusaders (2-2) with 20 points and Deion Lane added 18 points and 10 rebounds, but Belmont Abbey went 1-for-9 from the field with six turnovers during a 22-4 run by Tusculum that pushed the Pioneers to a 58-55 lead with five minutes to go.
The Crusaders regained the lead at 65-62 on a three-pointer by Ben Ferguson with 3:04 left, only to see the Pioneers tie the game on their next possession on a three by Ronnie Baylark. Markel Pollard put Belmont Abbey back ahead 67-65 with 1:37 left, but a layup by Tusculum's Dashaunte Smith knotted the score at 67-67 with 1:12 to go.
Belmont Abbey nearly took the lead in the final 30 seconds as Abrom came up with a steal, but Baylark blocked his layup attempt and allowed Tusculum to set up for a final shot. Donaldson ran down the clock, then connected with Mitchell for his only basket of the game with one second left to give the Pioneers the win.
The Crusaders led for nearly the entire first half, stretching their lead on a run of seven straight points by Lane that put Belmont Abbey ahead 39-28 with two minutes left in the half. Two free throws and a three-pointer by Donaldson allowed the Pioneers to cut the Crusader lead to 39-34 at halftime.
Donaldson led all players with 15 points in the first half, while Woods went 3-for-4 from three-point range and had 13 points in the half for the Pioneers. As a team, Tusculum shot 34.3 percent (12-for-35) from the field and went 5-for-15 from three-point range in the half.
Lane had a team-high 14 points in the first half for the Crusaders, with Abrom adding 11 points through a 7-for-7 performance at the foul line. Belmont Abbey shot 48 percent (12-for-25) from the field in the half and connected on 13-for-15 at the free-throw stripe as a team.
The Crusaders opened the second half with a 12-2 run to take their largest lead of the game at 51-36 following an Abrom layup with 14:36 left. Zach Hartle began the Tusculum comeback with a three-pointer on the Pioneers' next possession, and a layup by Smith and a three from Zailan Peeler cut the Crusader lead to 53-44 with 10:50 remaining.
Woods connected on his third three-pointer of the game to pull the Pioneers within 53-47 with 10:06 remaining, and another three by Peeler trimmed the Belmont Abbey advantage to five at 55-50 with 9:05 remaining. A layup by Woods and two free throws by Smith made it a 55-54 game with 7:40 left, and Woods sank a pair of foul shots with 6:56 left to give Tusculum its first lead of the game at 56-55.
Tusculum finished the game shooting 40.3 percent (25-for-62) from the field in the game, including 13-for-27 in the second half. The Pioneers sank 10 three-pointers in 28 attempts and shot 9-for-11 from the foul line in the game. Belmont Abbey shot 46 percent (23-for-50) and hit 16-for-21 at the stripe, while outrebounding the Pioneers 35-33.
Peeler finished with eight points for the Pioneers while Smith had a season-best eight points in 25 minutes off the Tusculum bench. Mitchell had seven rebounds in 19 minutes for the Pioneers, while Baylark led Tusculum with four assists.
John Bowen also scored in double figures for the Crusaders with 11 points, while Jacob Wilson had just two points on 1-for-8 shooting but grabbed seven rebounds and dished out a game-high five assists.
Tusculum will play its home opener on Tuesday, Nov. 21 when Lee visits Pioneer Arena for a 7 p.m. tipoff. The teams met Wednesday at Lee, with the host Flames coming away with an 83-67 victory over the Pioneers.