GREENEVILLE, Tenn. --- For the first time since 2013, the Tusculum women's basketball team has qualified for the South Atlantic Conference Championship tournament. The Pioneers earned the sixth seed and will travel to third-seeded Anderson for a quarterfinal game on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Abney Athletic Center.
The Pioneers finished the regular season with a 16-10 record and tied for sixth place in the SAC with Newberry at 11-9, but earned the sixth seed via tiebreaker. Anderson earned sole possession of third place in the SAC with a 13-7 league record and a 19-9 overall mark.
Tusculum's last SAC Tournament game was against Anderson in the 2013 championship game, which the Trojans won 55-52. The teams also met in the 2011 quarterfinals, with the Pioneers capturing a 62-61 victory en route to their second consecutive SAC championship.
Tusculum head coach Devan Carter will be making his postseason debut with the Pioneers after leading the team to a 10-game improvement on last year's 6-20 record.
The Pioneers carry a season-long three-game losing streak into Wednesday's game, including a 76-66 loss at Anderson last Wednesday. The Trojans won six of their last seven games to finish the regular season, with their last four victories all coming by double digits. Anderson's lone loss in February was a 67-58 setback to Wingate on the road on Feb. 17.
Tusculum is led in scoring by junior guard Sydney Wilson, who averages 14.1 points per game to rank ninth in the SAC. Wilson has made a conference-high 69 three-pointers and leads the league with 2.7 made three-pointers per game. The Greensboro, North Carolina native has scored in double figures in 18 of the last 19 games, including 11 in a row.
Junior forward Kasey Johnson is second on the team in scoring at 12.2 points per game, and ranks fourth in the SAC in three-point percentage at 43.0 percent (40-for-93). Johnson, who has scored 913 points in her career, has sank at least one three-pointer in 23 of the Pioneers' 26 games, and the Greensboro native ranks 10th in the league in rebounding at 6.5 boards per game.
Sophomore guard Mia Long also averages double figures for the Pioneers at 11.0 points per game, and ranks second in the SAC with 2.7 steals per contest and eighth in field-goal percentage at 49.3 percent. Long has scored in double figures 15 times and recently had a four-game streak in which she made 18 out of 20 shots from the field. The Ann Arbor, Michigan product has at least one steal in 21 consecutive games, which included a streak of 10 games in a row with at least two steals.
Rounding out the Pioneer starting five are junior forward Yolizma Cupidan (Ocoee, Fla.), who averages 9.3 points per game and 1.6 steals per game (sixth in the SAC) while averaging a team-best 29.7 minutes per game, and junior center Martoria Patton (Nashville, Tenn.), who has started all 26 games and averages 4.5 points and 6.0 rebounds per game (12th in the SAC), including 2.9 offensive boards per game.
Off the bench, junior center Kendrea Duke is averaging 9.1 points and 5.6 rebounds per game and has a team-high 15 blocked shots in just 14 games. Junior guard Lovely Locklear finished the season strong and is averaging 6.6 points per game, while freshman forward Maddie Sutton (4.8 ppg, 5.1 rpg) and junior guard Callie Patterson (5.4 ppg) have been regular parts of the Tusculum rotation.
Anderson has three players averaging in double figures, with sophomore guard Alexy Mollenhauer and junior guard Ace Easter at 11.5 points per game and graduate student center Alexis Dillard at 11.3 points per game.
Dillard, who has scored 1104 points in her Anderson career, leads the SAC in made free throws with 115 and is second with 157 attempts. She has scored in double figures 18 times this season and registered nine double-doubles, including 13 points and 11 rebounds in last week's win over the Pioneers.
Mollenhauer has scored in double figures 17 times and shares the team lead in three-pointers with sophomore guard Madison Baggett with 46, while Easter has drilled 32 three-pointers and is shooting 79.8 percent from the foul line. Easter scored a season-high 25 points off the bench against Tusculum last week, and has scored in double figures in five of her last six games.
In contrast to Tusculum, which has made only one change to its starting lineup all season when Wilson stepped in for Locklear in mid-December, Anderson has had 10 different starters and eight players make six or more starts. Dillard is the only Trojan to start all 28 of the team's games, although Mollenhauer, Baggett and Easter have not missed a game.
Anderson leads the all-time series against Tusculum by a 15-7 margin, and has won six straight against the Pioneer at home since a 72-71 Pioneer win on Jan. 18, 2012, which is Tusculum's only win in 10 all-time trips to the Abney Athletic Center. Tusculum beat Anderson by a 74-51 score at Pioneer Arena on Jan. 18 in the first meeting of the season between the teams.
Wednesday's winner will advance to the semifinals at Timmons Arena in Greenville, South Carolina to face the winner of the quarterfinal game between second-seeded Wingate and seventh-seeded Newberry, in a game that will be played Saturday at 2:30. The semifinal winners will square off for the SAC Championship on Sunday at 1 p.m., with the winner earning an automatic bid to the NCAA Division II Tournament.
South Atlantic Conference Women's Basketball Championship
Quarterfinals - Wednesday, February 28
#8 Lenoir-Rhyne at #1 Carson-Newman, 6:00
#5 Catawba at #4 Lincoln Memorial, 6:00
#7 Newberry at #2 Wingate, 6:00
#6 Tusculum at #3 Anderson, 7:00
Semifinals - Saturday, March 3 at Greenville, S.C.
Carson-Newman/Lenoir-Rhyne winner vs. Lincoln Memorial/Catawba winner, noon
Wingate/Newberry winner vs. Anderson/Tusculum winner, 2:30
Finals - Sunday, March 4 at Greenville, S.C.
Semifinal winners, 1:00