GREENEVILLE, Tenn. --- Tusculum University junior Brandon Mitchell recorded career-highs 17 rebounds and six blocked shots to go along with his game-high 18 points as the Pioneers led wire-to-wire in a 70-54 South Atlantic Conference win over Anderson University Saturday afternoon at Pioneer Arena.
Tusculum (10-4, 5-1 SAC) has won four straight and five of its last six as the Pioneers match the best league start through six games in its 21-year history as a SAC member. TU opened the 2003-04 campaign 5-1 in conference place en route to capturing the South Atlantic Conference that year.
Tusculum halts Anderson's three-game winning streak, while also snapping a four-game skid to the Trojans as TU wins for only the fifth time in 21 meetings since 2006.
The Pioneers led by 36-20 at the intermission but had to hold off a furious second half charge by AU as the Trojans whittled a once 18-point deficit to two points at 48-46 with 10 minutes left in regulation. Tusculum would close out the game with a 14-2 run sparked by three-pointers from rookie Joshua Scott and senior Dillon Smith.
Mitchell recorded his third double-double of the season as his 17-rebound effort surpasses the 15 boards he tallied against Lees-McRae in November. The 17 rebounds are tied for the seventh-most by a Pioneer while his six blocked shots matches the career-block tally he posted against USC Aiken in this year's season-opener and are tied for fourth in a TU single-game. Mitchell also notched his 100th career blocked shot, becoming only the fifth TU player to achieve the feat. He shot 8-of-10 from the floor while posting seven of Tusculum's 13 offensive rebounds in the game.
Caleb Hodnett added 11 points and nine rebounds off the bench, while Trenton Gibson had nine points, six rebounds, five rebounds and two steals in the victory. Tariq Jenkins finished with eight points including a pair of key buckets in TU's 14-2 run in the final minutes.
Anderson's Shawn Benard played all 40 minutes as he posted team-highs with 13 points and four assists. Quin Nottingham was held to 12 points and 3-of-15 shooting for the SAC's leading scorer entering the game (22.8 ppg). AU's Mack Burgett contributed 11 points and a team-high six rebounds off the bench.
Tusculum went 25-of-58 from the floor for 43 percent, including 8-of-19 from three-point territory (42%). TU shot 12-of-15 from the free throw line for 80 percent and out-rebounded the Trojans by a 44-32 margin on the glass. Tusculum held a 30-22 advantage in scoring in the paint and 19-10 on points off turnovers. TU used its 13 offensive rebounds resulting in 12 second chance points.
Anderson finished the game shooting 20-of-57 for 35 percent including 7-of-27 in the opening period as AU's 20 points were a season-low in a half.
The Pioneers scored the first four points of the game and ran off to a 12-2 lead at the 15:43 mark of the half. Burgett cut the deficit to single digits with his layup with 12:37 left before halftime as AU trailed 17-9. Tusculum responded with an 8-0 run including three-pointers by Smith and freshman Keaston Brown and an offensive rebound and layup by senior Cameron King as TU led 25-9 with 11 minutes left in the half.
Mitchell gave TU its largest lead of the game at 36-18 following his fast-break layup two minutes before the intermission.
But the Trojans responded with a 10-0 run spanning the first and second half thanks to a pair of triples from Benard as AU trailed 36-28 with 17:59 left in the game.
Tusculum snapped the skid and pushed the lead back to 13 points (45-32) after an offensive board and jumper from Mitchell with 14:30 left.
Anderson put together a 14-3 spurt over span of 4:30 including five points from Nottingham and back-to-back buckets from Benard as the Trojans trailed 48-46 with 10 minutes left.
A 7-0 TU run slowed down the Anderson advance, but the Trojans cut the deficit to 56-62 with four minutes remaining. The Pioneers scored 11 straight as part of a 14-2 run seal the victory down the wire.
Tusculum begins a three-game road swing on Wednesday when they take on cross-mountain rival Mars Hill University for a 7:30 p.m. contest at Stanford Arena.