YOUNG HARRIS, Ga. --- Tusculum University nearly let a 20-point second-half lead slip away before holding on for a 73-69 win over Young Harris College Saturday afternoon in non-conference men's basketball at the YHC Basketball Arena.
Four players reached double figures for the Pioneers (7-4), led by Joshua Scott who matched his season high with 14 points and grabbed a team-high seven rebounds. Caleb Hodnett had 12 points and six rebounds off the bench and Trenton Gibson added 10 points and seven rebounds, including two free throws in the final seconds, as the Pioneers finished the sweep of the season series with the Mountain Lions.
Jacorie Archie scored a game-high 15 points for the Mountain Lions (2-6), who made just four field goals in the first half and trailed 56-36 midway through the second half before surging back behind the long-range shooting of Ryle Owens (13 points) and Seth McCoy (12 points), who combined for six three-pointers in the second half after each were held scoreless in the opening half.
Brandon Mitchell also scored in double figures for the Pioneers with 10 points and six rebounds, while Tariq Jenkins matched his career high with six steals and finished with six points and three assists. Tusculum shot 48.9 percent (23-for-47) from the field in the game and went 7-for-16 from three-point range, but struggled from the foul line at 20-for-37 (54.1 percent).
Tusculum led from start to finish, holding a 30-16 lead at the half as Young Harris shot just 16 percent as a team. The Mountain Lions turned on the offense in the second half, shooting 17-for-32 (53.1 percent) overall and 11-for-22 from three-point range to end the game at 36.8 percent overall and 35.1 percent from long range.
Scott got off to a quick start for the Pioneers, draining a three-pointer on the game's opening possession and following up with a putback after a steal. Young Harris got on the board on a driving layup by Brian Harper with 18:34 left in the first half, but went scoreless for just over five minutes as the Mountain Lions opened the game 1-for-9 from the field.
Young Harris cut the deficit to 7-6 on four straight points from Archie, while Tusculum went through a drought of more than four minutes until Dillon Smith canned a three to extend the Pioneer lead to 10-6 with 11:31 remaining in the half. The Mountain Lions went through another scoring drought that covered more than six minutes before Paul Miller sank a corner three to cut the Pioneer lead to 12-9 with 7:04 left in the first half.
Tusculum took its biggest lead of the half at 16-9 on a fast-break layup by Hodnett with 5:21 left in the half, and a three from Hodnett extended the advantage to 19-9 with 4:28 to go. Tusculum's run reached 11-0 on a three by Scott with 3:45 remaining and a free throw by Gibson with 2:47 left before Archie was able to break a 5 1/2 minute Young Harris drought with two free throws with 1:40 to play. A three-point play from Adrian Cohen with 2.8 seconds left sent the Pioneers to the locker room with their largest lead at 30-16.
Scott led all players with eight points on 3-for-4 shooting in the first half, including two three-pointers, while Smith had seven points in nine minutes off the bench. Jenkins contributed with four points and five steals as Tusculum forced Young Harris into 13 turnovers in the half.
As a team, the Pioneers shot 44.4 percent (12-for-27) from the field while the Mountain Lions were a dismal 4-for-25 (16 percent), including 2-for-15 from long range. Archie and Miller had six points apiece to lead the way for Young Harris in the first half. Gibson had a game-high six rebounds in the first half for the Pioneers, who outrebounded the Mountain Lions 22-16 over the opening 20 minutes.
After missing 13 of their 15 shots from beyond the arc in the first half, the Mountain Lions sank four of their first six attempts in the second half. However, the Pioneers were able to maintain their lead as Scott and Justin Mitchell sank three-pointers and Brandon Mitchell converted a traditional three-point play to push the Tusculum advantage to 41-24 with 16:36 to go in the game.
Tusculum built its lead to 50-31 on a layup by Hodnett with 14:01 left, and pushed the lead to 20 points at 56-36 as Jenkins canned a pair of foul shots with 10:06 remaining. However, a pair of threes from McCoy and a running jumper from Owens cut the Tusculum lead to 56-44 with 8:03 left. A putback by Justin Mitchell snapped a 10-1 run by the Mountain Lions and ended a Pioneer field goal drought of more than six minutes, as Tusculum went ahead 59-46 with 5:03 to go.
Young Harris continued its surge as a layup by Kristian Collins cut the Tusculum lead to 61-53 with 3:16 remaining, but Brandon Mitchell scored five straight points to extend the Pioneer lead to 66-53 with 2:00 left. A three-pointer by Archie and a layup by Owens off a steal brought the Mountain Lions back within 66-58 with 1:29 to go, and two free throws by Harper cut the Tusculum advantage to 66-60 with 57.2 remaining.
After foul shots by Scott and Hodnett gave the Pioneers a 68-60 lead with 41.8 seconds left, Owens hit a three-pointer with 32.5 seconds remaining to cut Tusculum's lead to 68-63. Brandon Mitchell hit two free throws with 20.2 seconds left for a 70-63 Pioneer lead, but Archie answered with a three with 15.2 seconds remaining to cut the margin to four.
Gibson made a foul shot with 14.0 seconds left as Tusculum went up 71-66, but McCoy was fouled shooting a three and made all three to make it a 71-69 game with 4.9 left. Gibson was fouled with 4.0 seconds left and went to the line for his 12th and career-high 13th attempts, and made both to allow the Pioneers to escape with the win. Gibson was 8-for-13 at the foul line for the Pioneers in the game, while Brandon Mitchell was 6-for-7 from the stripe as part of his 10-point performance.
Justin Mitchell grabbed a season-high six rebounds to go along with nine points for the Pioneers. Tusculum, the best offensive rebounding team in Division II entering the game (19.4 per game), had 11 offensive boards against Young Harris and turned them into 12 points.
The Pioneers finished the game with 21 turnovers, but the Mountain Lions were able to score just nine points off the miscues. Tusculum forced 18 turnovers from Young Harris and turned them into 17 points. Tusculum outscored Young Harris 30-16 in the paint and 24-20 off the bench, but the Mountain Lions had a 27-17 edge in fast break scoring.
Tusculum will return to South Atlantic Conference action on Wednesday, Dec. 18 at Pioneer Arena against UVa-Wise, starting at 7:30 p.m. It will be the first-ever SAC game between the Pioneers and the Cavaliers, who are playing their first season in the league.