WINGATE, N.C. --- Tusculum overcame a 16-point second-half deficit against Wingate, but ultimately fell short as the Bulldogs came away with a 73-72 victory Saturday afternoon at Cuddy Arena in South Atlantic Conference men's basketball action.
Zeriq Lolar connected on two three-pointers in the final four minutes en route to a game-high 27 points for the Bulldogs (5-6, 3-1 SAC), who saw the Pioneers take the lead via a 28-7 run midway through the second half before recovering to regain the lead for good with 4 1/2 minutes to go. Neico Robinson added 16 points and six rebounds as the Bulldogs won their 10th consecutive home game dating back to last season, and defeated the Pioneers at Cuddy Arena for the seventh straight meeting since Jan. 9, 2011.
Donovan Donaldson scored 23 of his season-high 24 points in the second half for the Pioneers, but his driving layup in the closing seconds was contested by the Wingate defense and the rebound was unable to be collected before time expired. For Tusculum (3-8, 1-4 SAC) it was the team's second straight loss that came down to the final possession, following Wednesday's 100-97 overtime defeat to Coker on a three-pointer with under a second remaining.
Playing without leading scorer Peyton Woods (15.8 points per game) due to illness along with starting guard Jackie Davis, the Pioneers trailed 42-26 early in the second half before Donaldson sparked an 8-0 run with a three-pointer. Tusculum still trailed 49-34 after two foul shots from Robinson with 15:57 left, but a three-pointer from Caleb Hodnett and back-to-back layups by Donaldson, the latter part of a three-point play, cut the deficit to 49-42 with 13:18 left.
Down 56-49 after a Robinson basket with 9:36 to go, the Pioneers reeled off 13 consecutive points over a two-minute span to take the lead. A three-pointer from Ronnie Baylark brought Tusculum within four, and three foul shots from Donaldson cut the Wingate lead to 56-55 with 8:57 remaining. Elon Smallwood gave Tusculum its first lead since midway through the first half when he drilled his first three-pointer of the season with 8:34 left. The run continued as Donaldson connected on a layup with 7:58 remaining, then came up with a steal and layup with 7:32 left to give the Pioneers their largest lead of the day at 62-56.
Wingate came back with a 12-2 run, including a spurt of seven straight points that was capped by a Lolar three-pointer with 3:53 left which gave the Bulldogs a 68-64 lead. Zach Hartle brought Tusculum within a point at 68-67 on a three-pointer with 2:30 to play, and the lead remained at one for Wingate after an exchange of baskets by Robinson and the Pioneers' Zailan Peeler.
Lolar responded with 1:15 left as his long jumper was ruled a three-pointer to give the Bulldogs some breathing room at 73-69, but Donaldson delivered again with a three-point play with 45 seconds to go to cut the margin to 73-72. Following a missed shot by Wingate, Tusculum set up a final possession for the win but Donaldson was met at the rim by Robinson and his shot caromed off glass as the final seconds ticked away.
Donaldson shot 8-for-18 from the field, including a three-pointer, and was 7-for-8 at the foul line to surpass his previous career high of 21 points set at Belmont Abbey on Nov. 18. Donaldson nearly reached his collegiate career high of 26 points, set against Christian Brothers on Dec. 3, 2016 when Donaldson played for Trevecca Nazarene. He also dished out a team-high seven assists, coming up one shy of his career best of eight which he matched on Wednesday against Coker.
Tusculum had an early 11-5 lead behind a three-pointer from Baylark and two in a row from Hartle. The Pioneers continued to lead until Quantra Taylor scored on a putback to give the Bulldogs a 15-14 lead with 11:08 to go in the first half. A Lolar three-pointer jumpstarted a 13-0 run for Wingate, turning a 17-17 tie into a 30-17 Bulldogs lead with 5:19 left in the half. Five straight points from Hodnett brough the Pioneers back within eight at 30-22, but his three-pointer with 3:42 remaining would be the Pioneers' final field goal of the half. ''
The Bulldogs led 37-24 at the half as Lolar led all players with 12 points. The Bulldogs shot 45.7 percent (16-for-35) from the field in the first half, while the Pioneers connected on 8-for-27 overall (29.6 percent) and 5-for-15 from three-point range. Three of the three-pointers came from Hartle, who led Tusculum with nine points in the first half while Hodnett added seven.
A Lolar three-pointer just over a minute into the second half gave the Bulldogs their biggest lead at 42-26, but from there the Pioneers shot 60.7 percent (17-for-28) from the field and 5-for-12 from three-point range. Overall, Tusculum finished the game at 45.6 percent (26-for-57) from the field and hit 11 three-pointers in 28 attempts. Wingate shot slightly better from the field at 46.7 percent (28-for-60) and went 9-for-20 from three-point range. The Bulldogs were 8-for-11 at the foul line as a team, with the Pioneers going 9-for-11 at the stripe including six without a miss in the second half.
Hartle, who entered the game shooting 55 percent (22-for-40) from three-point range this season which would rank 10th in Division II if he qualified, went 4-for-6 from three-point range against Wingate and finished with 12 points along with four assists. Baylark was 3-for-4 from beyond the arc and added nine points in 19 minutes, while Hodnett also reached double figures for Tusculum with 10 points and five rebounds. Off the bench, Dashaunte Smith led the Pioneers with a season-high seven rebounds, while Smallwood reached a season best with seven points and four rebounds in 27 minutes.
Lolar and Robinson were the only players to reach double figures in scoring for Wingate, which was led in rebounding by Devarious Christian with nine boards to go along with six points. Taylor had nine points and three rebounds in just nine minutes off the bench for the Bulldogs, who saw leading scorer Marco Haskins (13.6 ppg) fail to reach double figures for the first time this season as he had eight points and four rebounds in 32 minutes.
Wingate outrebounded Tusculum 34-32 in the game, and held a 16-8 edge in second-chance points. The Bulldogs turned the ball over 12 times compared to 15 by the Pioneers, with Tusculum scoring 19 points off Wingate turnovers and the Bulldogs tallying 16 points off the Pioneer miscues.
Tusculum will return home to face Barton in a non-conference game Tuesday at 4 p.m. at Pioneer Arena, and will resume conference play on Wednesday, January 3 at Mars Hill.