Smith shines, Pioneers beat Lander 84-61 in home opener

Dillon Smith scored 20 points off the bench in Tusculum's 84-61 win over Lander (photo by Chuck Williams)
Dillon Smith scored 20 points off the bench in Tusculum's 84-61 win over Lander (photo by Chuck Williams)

GREENEVILLE, Tenn. --- Junior Dillon Smith poured in a season-high 20 points off the bench to lead the Tusculum University men's basketball team to an 84-61 win over Lander University Saturday afternoon at Pioneer Arena in TU's home opener.

The Pioneers (3-3) have won three of their last four games including the season sweep over the Bearcats (1-4).  Tusculum played a suffocating defense in the second half, limiting Lander to 28 points while shooting 5-of-22 (22.7%) in the final 20 minutes.

Smith finished the game shooting 7-of-10 from the floor including 5-of-8 from three-point territory.  He also grabbed four rebounds dished out two assists, had two steals and blocked a shot in his 29 minutes of action.

Junior Tariq Jenkins added 17 points and six rebounds, while senior Donovan Donaldson tallied 15 points and seven rebounds while shooting a perfect 6-of-6 at the free throw line.  Only Trenton Gibson did better at the foul stripe as the freshman went 8-of-8 at the line while posting game-highs of nine rebounds and four assists in the victory.

Lander's Marquel Wiggins led the visitors with his 17 points with 15 of those coming in the first half.

Tusculum finished the game shooting 40.3 percent (25-of-62) while dominating on the boards by a 53-29 margin including 25-13 on the offensive glass resulting in 26 second-chance points for the Black and Orange.

The game went back and forth in the first five minutes with TU taking an early 9-8 lead.  Tusculum went on an 11-5 run to take a 20-13 lead following a Smith three-pointer at the 8:49 mark of the half.  Back came the Bearcats as LU went on a 6-2 spurt to cut the deficit to 22-20 thanks to a three-point play from Wiggins with six minutes left in the period.

The Pioneers went on a 10-4 run over the next 2:28 that included triples from Donaldson and Jenkins as the TU lead grew to 32-24.  The lead stood at eight with nine seconds left after a Donaldson layup but Morris Robinson, Jr. converted a three-point play with one second left as the Pioneers took a 38-33 lead into the intermission.

Tusculum moved out to a pair of nine-point leads early in the second half including 45-36 with 16:55 remaining on the clock.  The Bearcats cut the lead to six (45-39) after Elijah Alston made one of two free throws and TJ Knight had an offensive rebound and put-back.

The Pioneers used a 14-5 spurt over the next five minutes with was sparked by three 3-pointers from Smith as Tusculum led 59-44 with 10:34 to go.  The Bearcats whittled the deficit to 67-57 after a Rahu Purdie basket off a Tusculum turnover.  But the Pioneers would outscore Lander 17-4 over the final six minutes to secure the win.

Tusculum's 53 rebounds are tied for the ninth-most in program history and are the second most this season.  TU posted 56 boards in last week's win at Lander.  Ten different Pioneers recorded at least one rebound on Saturday with Brandon Mitchell hauling in eight boards while Caleb Hodnett had six boards as both were hampered with foul trouble on the afternoon.

Tusculum finished the game shooting 24-of-32 at the free throw line for 75 percent while Lander went 22-of-33 for 67 percent.  The Pioneers also finished the game with 10 three-pointers while limiting the Bearcats to 1-of-7 shooting from beyond the arc.

Tusculum will open its 20th South Atlantic Conference season this Wednesday when the Pioneers travel to Anderson University for an 8 p.m. tip-off against the Trojans.