BELMONT, N.C. --- Kendrea Duke scored a career-high 20 points to lead the Tusculum University women's basketball team to a 64-49 season-opening win over host Belmont Abbey Friday night at the Wheeler Center. It was the second game of the opening day of the 2018 South Atlantic Conference / Conference Carolinas Challenge.
Trailing 19-18 after the first quarter, the Pioneers outscored the Crusaders (0-1) by a 19-7 margin the second period and never trailed for the remainder of the evening.
Duke shot a sizzling 9-of-13 from the floor while grabbing a team-best five rebounds as she surpassed her previous career-best of 19 points last year against Catawba. Sydney Wilson poured in 15 points going 4-of-5 from the field with a three-pointer and shot 6-of-8 from the free throw line. Mia Long added 13 points, four rebounds and a game-high five steals in the victory.
The Tusculum defense forced 32 Belmont Abbey turnovers resulting in 31 points for the visitors. TU also held a 42-14 advantage in points in the paint and edged the Crusaders 32-28 in rebounding.
Irelynn Davisson was the lone Belmont Abbey player in double-figures finishing with 12 points.
The Pioneers finished the contest shooting 48.4 percent from the floor going 26-of-54 while the Crusaders shot 34 percent (15-of-44) and 13-of-16 at the free throw line (81%).
Tusculum got off to a sluggish start and trailed 10-3 following a Davisson three-pointer at the 7:10 mark of the opening quarter. Callie Patterson knocked down a triple and Long made one of two free throws to cut the deficit to 10-7. A pair of Davisson free throws later in the quarter extended the BAC lead to 17-12 with 1:29 left in the frame. The two teams exchanged baskets but the turning point of the game came with five seconds left when Wilson converted a four-point play when she drained her lone trifecta of the evening and made the free throw as TU trailed 19-18 after 10 minutes of play.
Tusculum extended the run to 13-0 as the Pioneers led 28-19, scoring the first nine points of the second period and held the Crusaders scoreless for the first 5:04 of the quarter. The Abbey cut the deficit to 30-24 following two free throws from Hannah Roney with 3:04 remaining in the half. Back-to-back baskets by Duke and Long sparked a 7-2 run to end the half as Tusculum headed to the locker room leading 37-26. Tusculum finished the half shooting 52 percent (13-of-25), while Belmont Abbey shot 39 percent including 14 percent in the second quarter alone.
Tusculum saw its 11-point advantage evaporate to 41-37 with 4:05 left in the third after an Alexis Schulz three-pointer. Jasmine Williams got an offensive rebound and put back and Wilson made a jumper as TU led 45-37 with three minutes remaining the period. Belmont Abbey made one of two free throws to whittle the TU lead to five (45-40). Duke made one of two free throws and Yolizma Cupidan hit a layup as the Pioneers led 48-40 after three quarters of play.
Cupidan opened the fourth quarter with another layup and Martoria Patton added a basket to push the Tusculum lead back to 12 at 52-40 with 8:56 remaining. TU increased the lead to as many as 16 points, outscoring the Crusaders 16-9 in the final stanza to secure the 15-point victory.
Tusculum returns to action on Saturday when they take on in-state foe King University at 5 p.m. from the Wheeler Center to close out the SAC / Conference Carolinas Challenge.