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Pioneers open at home Wednesday, travel to Charlotte this weekend for pair

Pioneers open at home Wednesday, travel to Charlotte this weekend for pair

GREENEVILLE, Tenn. --- The Tusculum University men's basketball team will face three regional opponents this week beginning with Wednesday's home opener against Young Harris College. Tip-off time of Wednesday's opener is 7:30 p.m. at Pioneer Arena.

Tusculum posted a pair of wins at the South Atlantic Conference / Peach Belt Conference Challenge last weekend in Harrogate, Tennessee. TU opened with a convincing 93-63 win over 2019 NCAA Division II Tournament participant USC Aiken and closed out their Harrogate stay with a 78-61 win against Clayton State.

The Pioneers will face another NCAA Tournament participant from a year ago as they take on UNC Pembroke on Saturday at 4 p.m. followed by a Sunday match-up against Lees-McRae.  Both games will be played Curry Arena on the campus of Queens University of Charlotte.


On Friday, TU sophomore Trenton Gibson posted his first collegiate double-double with 17 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists in the opener against USC Aiken. Eleven of his assists came in the second half as the Pioneers utilized a 27-2 run to avenge last year's season-opening loss to the Pacers. 

Tusculum senior Tariq Jenkins led all players with 22 points, which was two markers shy of a career-best.  Senior guard Dillon Smith tallied a career-high 21 points as he went 5-of-10 from three-point territory and posted a team-best three steals. Forward Caleb Hodnett tallied 11 points, seven boards and three assists while junior forward Brandon Mitchell accounted for eight points, 11 rebounds and blocked a career-best six blocked shots, which are tied for the fourth-most in a TU single-game.

In Saturday win against Clayton State, Mitchell posted 17 points and seven rebounds while the Pioneers used an 11-0 first half as TU is off to its first 2-0 start to a season since winning its first two games of the 2016-2017 campaign.  TU avenges last year's four-point loss to Clayton State and defeats the Lakers for the first-time ever in four meetings.

Mitchell highlighted four Pioneers in double-figure scoring as Jenkins shot 6-of-10 from the field including 2-of-3 from three-point territory for his 15 points. Gibson followed with 12 points, six rebounds, two assists and three steals. TU newcomer Joshua Scott tallied 11 points off the bench as he shot 5-of-7 from the floor, grabbed seven boards and made three steals. Hodnett led all players with nine rebounds to go along with his nine points, three assists and two blocked shots.


Wednesday's home opener with Young Harris will be the first recorded meeting with the Mountain Lions. Young Harris has started the season 0-2 dropping its season-opener 110-96 to eighth-ranked and defending SAC and NCAA Southeast Region champion Queens.  YHC lost the weekend's second game at home, a 110-99 marathon against Lenoir-Rhyne University on Saturday.

The Mountain Lions are being led by the duo of Brian Harper and Alphonso Willis, who are scoring 22.5 and 21 points per game, respectively.  Harper, a senior from Memphis, Tennessee, scored 20 points and dished out 15 assists against Queens. He followed with 25 markers and nine assists against Lenoir-Rhyne.  Willis posted a double-double in both games over the weekend as he tallied 14 points and 10 rebounds against Queens and accounted for 28 points and 14 boards against L-R.

Saturday's match-up with UNC Pembroke will also be the first against Braves for Tusculum.  UNCP is off to a 3-0 start after posting two wins against SAC foes in Catawba and Newberry. Last Friday, Pembroke rallied from a 10-point deficit with 90 seconds left in regulation and made seven of its nine free throw attempts in overtime to spark a 95-90 win.  UNCP also defeated Newberry 73-69 as Jabrie Bullard scored 18 points off the bench for the Braves.  UNCP opened play this week for its third straight win of the year with Tuesday's 75-64 road win at Winston-Salem State University.

Tusculum will close out the weekend on Sunday with a 4 p.m. contest against Lees-McRae. It will be the first of two meetings this year as the Bobcats will visit Pioneer Arena next month.  LMC is 2-0 against SAC teams already this year with home victories over Carson-Newman (103-101) and league-newcomer UVa-Wise (89-78).

The Bobcats are averaging 96 points per game thanks to 11.5 three-pointers per contest and shooting 44.2 percent from three-point land.  LMC junior Quay Kimble leads the way in scoring, averaging 19 points per game including 25 points in the win over UVa-Wise where he was nearly perfect shooting 7-of-8 from the floor, made all four of his 3-point attempts and went 7-of-7 at the charity stripe. As a team, the Bobcats shot 23-of-23 from the free throw line against the Cavaliers.

Senior Kamil Williams tallied 21 markers against Carson-Newman and followed with 16 points vs. UVa-Wise as he is posting 18.5 points per game.


Through its first two games, Tusculum is allowing just 62 points per contest which is the lowest in the conference.  Jenkins is leading the team in scoring with 18.5 points per game and is shooting a sizzling 5-of-7 from three-point land (71.4%). Gibson is second on the squad averaging 14.5 points per contest (19th in SAC) and a league-best 7.0 assists per outing.

Senior Dillion Smith is third posting 14 points per contest, while Mitchell added 12.5 points and a TU-best 9.0 rebounds per game (4th in SAC). Mitchell also leads the SAC in blocked shots averaging 4.0 rejections per game.  Hodnett rounds out the group of double-figure scorers with 10 points per contest and is third with his 8.0 rebounds per game (T7th in SAC).

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