GREENEVILLE, Tenn. --- For the second consecutive game, a furious second-half rally by the Tusculum men's basketball team came up one basket short, as the Pioneers fell 100-97 to Barton Tuesday afternoon at Pioneer Arena.
The Pioneers (3-9) have dropped three straight contests by a total of seven points, with the outcome of each game in doubt until the final shot. In its previous game on Saturday at Wingate, Tusculum trailed by 16 points early in the second half before falling to the Bulldogs 73-72. Last Wednesday, the Pioneers were beaten by Coker 100-97 in overtime on a three-pointer with less than a second remaining.
Ronnie Baylark led Tusculum and matched his career high with 25 points, while Dashaunte Smith had his first career double-double with season highs of 16 points and 12 rebounds. Elon Smallwood also had a career high with 16 points as the Pioneers placed five players in double figures and shot 54.5 percent (36-for-66) from the field as a team.
Isaiah Buck-Lowman led the Bulldogs (7-4) with a career-high 29 points on 10-for-13 shooting from the field, and Bobby Stenborg added a double-double with 20 points and 11 rebounds. Michael Boykin added 19 points and Jeff Gordon scored 18 for Barton, which won its fifth straight game by hitting 61.3 percent (38-for-62) from the floor.
Tusculum trailed by 23 points midway through the first half and by eight points with 37 seconds left in regulation, but rallied back within a point at 98-97 on back-to-back three-pointers by Zach Hartle and Donovan Donaldson, the latter with 15.3 seconds remaining. After two foul shots by Zach Grant with 13.1 seconds left extended the Barton lead to three, Baylark was short on a three-pointer with 1.5 seconds left and Stenborg grabbed the rebound as time expired.
The teams were tied at 4-4 in the first two minutes of the game, but Barton scored on its next six possessions as part of a 12-0 run that gave the Bulldogs a 16-4 lead with just over five minutes gone in the first half. Another 16-4 run by Barton gave the Bulldogs their largest lead of the day at 36-13 following a Gordon basket with 8:17 to go in the half.
The Pioneers trailed 41-19 following a three-point play from Stenborg with 6:21 left in the half, but ran off nine straight points to cut the deficit to 41-28 following two free throws from Smith with 3:44 remaining in the half. The Barton lead went back to 16 at 47-31 after a layup by Boykin with 2:09 to play in the half, but Tusculum was able to whittle the margin to 12 at halftime, trailing 49-37.
Barton shot 62.2 percent (23-for-37) from the field in the first half and had three players in double figures, led by Stenborg with 13 points and seven rebounds. Buck-Lowman had 11 points and Boykin added 10 for the Bulldogs in the half, as 36 of the team's 49 points were scored in the paint.
Baylark led the Pioneers with nine points and Hartle added eight for the Pioneers, who shot 43.8 percent (14-for-32) from the field and hit just 5-for-11 from the foul line as a team. Tusculum was outrebounded 22-14 in the first half, with Smith leading the way for the Pioneers with four.
Tusculum brought the deficit into single digits as Baylark connected on a three-pointer with 18:30 remaining to bring the Pioneers within 51-42, and a layup from Baylark cut the margin to 58-51 with 14:50 left. Two free throws from Buck-Lowman and two more from Gordon helped the Bulldogs start a 12-5 run that left Barton holding a 70-56 lead with 10:29 remaining. Trailing 73-63 with 8:58 to go, the Pioneers ripped off seven points in a minute on a dunk by Smallwood, a layup by Baylark and a three-pointer from Baylark, the latter with 7:57 to play to pull Tusculum within 73-70. However, Buck-Lowman scored the next eight points for the Bulldogs as the margin increased to 86-75 with 4:15 to go.
Barton seemed poised to finish off the win as two free throws from Buck-Lowman gave the Bulldogs a 94-84 lead with one minute to go. However, Smallwood scored seven points in 22 seconds on a three-point play, a jumper and a dunk, pulling the Pioneers to within 97-91 with 29.8 seconds left. After Gordon hit one of two free throws, Hartle drained a three with 21.0 seconds left to bring Tusculum within 98-94. A turnover on the inbounds pass gave the ball back to the Pioneers, and Donaldson connected from the corner with 15.3 seconds to go to make it a one-point game before Grant hit two free throws to set the final score.
Both teams were on fire from the field in the second half, with Tusculum shooting 64.7 percent (22-for-34) and 10-for-18 on three-pointers. Barton was 15-for-25 (60 percent) from the floor after halftime, and went 19-for-26 (73.1 percent) from the foul line in the half. Tusculum scored 60 points in the second half, reaching that mark in a half for the first time since scoring 63 points in the second half of a 99-94 comeback win over King on Dec. 14, 2015.
Baylark's 25 points came on 10-for-15 shooting from the field, surpassing his season high of 23 set against Coker last week and equaling his career best of 25 set against Mars Hill on Feb. 22 of last season. Smith's 16 points doubled his season best of eight set against Belmont Abbey on Nov. 18, and his 12 rebounds broke his personal high of seven set at Wingate on Saturday. Smith also had a season-high four assists in 35 minutes for the Pioneers.
Smallwood had 16 points on 7-for-12 shooting in 29 minutes for the Pioneers, more than doubling his previous high of seven points which he set at Wingate on Saturday. Hartle also scored 16 points on 6-for-10 shooting from the field, including four three-pointers, and Donaldson was the fifth in double figures for the Pioneers with 14 points, four rebounds and career-high matching eight assists.
For Barton, Stenborg shot 9-for-15 from the field in the game and Boykin connected on 8-for-12 from the floor. In addition to his 18 points, Gordon had seven rebounds and five assists in 31 minutes, while Grant had seven points and five assists for the Bulldogs, who outrebounded the Pioneers 36-27 and had a 17-10 edge in fast break points.
Both teams finished the game with 24 assists and 16 turnovers, with Tusculum scoring 24 points off Barton turnovers and the Bulldogs netting 17 off Pioneer miscues. Each team had 12 second-chance points in the contest, with Barton grabbing 10 offensive rebounds and Tusculum eight as a team. Overall, Barton was 21-for-28 (75 percent) at the foul line, while Tusculum hit 11-for-20 (55 percent) at the stripe in the game.
Tusculum will break for the next week before returning to prepare for an exhibition game at ETSU on Thursday, Dec. 28 at 7 p.m. at Freedom Hall in Johnson City. Tusculum's next conference game will be Wednesday, Jan. 3 on the road at Mars Hill.