GREENEVILLE, Tenn. --- The Tusculum University men's basketball team takes its four-game winning streak on the road this week for a pair of South Atlantic Conference contests at Mars Hill University (Wed. – 7:30 p.m.) and Coker University (Sat. – 2 p.m.).
The Pioneers (10-4, 5-1 SAC) have matched its best league start through six SAC outings in the 21-year history as a conference member. The last time TU opened 5-1 in SAC play was during the 2003-04 campaign as the Pioneers parlayed that hot start into a SAC regular season championship.
Tusculum is ranked sixth in the latest D2SIDA Southeast Region Poll and is tied for second place in South Atlantic Conference standings.
The Black & Orange owns a 4-1 road record so far including a 2-0 in league play with road wins at Newberry (Dec. 7) and nationally-ranked Queens (Dec. 21).
RECAPPING LAST WEEK
TU junior forward Brandon Mitchell hauled in a career-high 17 rebounds to go along with his game-high 18 points in Saturday's 70-54 wire-to-wire win over Anderson University. Mitchell went 8-of-10 from the floor and matched his career best with six blocked shots as TU snapped a four-game skid against the Trojans.
Caleb Hodnett added 11 points and nine rebounds off the bench, while Trenton Gibson tallied nine points, five rebounds, six assists and two steals. TU's leading scorer Tariq Jenkins was held to eight points, but scored a pair of back-to-back buckets in the Pioneers' 14-2 run to close out the game.
One of the most improved teams in the conference this year is the Mars Hill Lions (6-6, 4-2 SAC) who find themselves tied for fourth place in the league. Mars Hill has accounted for league wins over UVa-Wise, Newberry, Coker and Carson-Newman. Its two losses have been at the hands of Catawba and a 103-93 shootout loss at Wingate on Saturday.
Tusculum, who faced the SAC's top-scorer in Quin Nottingham of Anderson on Saturday, will do so again on Wednesday when they face MHU senior guard Ja'Shawn Brooks. Brooks took over the league scoring lead following his career-best 35-point performance at Wingate as he shot 9-of-13 from the floor including 6-of-8 from three-point territory and 11-of-13 at the free throw line. Brooks is averaging a SAC-best 22.5 points per game which is 18th in NCAA Division II. Brooks also leads the SAC in free throws made (87) and attempted (97) and is second in percentage at .897 (27th in NCAA II).
Junior guard Austin Gilyard is second on the team in scoring, averaging 18.8 points per contest including his 24 markers at Wingate. Junior forward Nassyr Daniel is second leads the Lions on the boards averaging 7.5 rebounds per game (5th in SAC) including 3.31 rpg on the offensive boards which is second only to TU's Brandon Mitchell. Daniel is tops in the conference in blocked shots per game at 2.08 per contest (18th in SAC), just ahead of Mitchell's 2.07 average for the Pioneers.
Coker (2-8, 1-5 SAC) enter the week riding a seven-game losing streak including Saturday's 89-70 loss at Lenoir-Rhyne University. The Cobras league win came in the SAC opener at Wingate as Coker came away with a 49-45 victory over the Bulldogs. Junior guard Royce Hunter leads Coker in scoring averaging 16.6 points per game (13th in SAC) including Saturday's team-high 24 makers at Lenoir-Rhyne. The Cobras will host Catawba on Wednesday before entertaining the Pioneers on Saturday.
Wednesday's clash between Tusculum and Mars Hill will be the 66th recorded meeting with TU owning a 38-27 lead in the all-time series. The Pioneers have won seven in a row over their cross-mountain rivals with 14 of the last 22 games being decided by 10 points or less.
Saturday's game at Coker will be the 13th meeting between TU and the Cobras. Coker leads the all-time series 7-5 and owns a 4-2 edge in games played on the Hartsville, South Carolina campus.
The Pioneers continue to be one of the top rebounding teams in the country. Tusculum leads NCAA Division II in rebounding margin (+12.6) and offensive rebounds per game (17.9 rpg) and is seventh in total rebounds per game (42.9 rpg).
TU is second in the conference in scoring defense allowing 69.2 points per game and hold an impressive 9-1 record when limiting the opposition to fewer than 80 points so far this year.
Jenkins leads the Pioneers in scoring averaging 15.4 points per game (16th in SAC). Gibson is second on the team scoring 12.6 points per contest (25th in SAC) and is second on the roster in rebounding (6.4 rpg – 10th in SAC). Gibson also leads TU in both assists (4.1 apg – 6th in SAC) and steals (1.6 spg – T11th in SAC) per game.
Mitchell leads TU in rebounding with his 8.0 boards per game average (3rd in SAC), which includes a SAC-best 3.9 offensive rebound average (12th in NCAA II). Mitchell also leads the team in blocked shots (2.07 bpg – 2nd in SAC/19th in NCAA II) to go along with his 9.0 points per game. Hodnett is averaging 9.7 points per contest and is third on the team in rebounding, pulling down 6.2 boards per outing (15th in SAC).
FOLLOW THE GAMES
The "Voice of the Pioneers" Brian Stayton will describe all the action of Tusculum basketball on the Pioneer Sports Network. Fans can listen to the games locally on WSMG Radio at 95.5 FM and 1450 AM, and on-line at jewel955.com. Live video and live stats links are also available at www.TusculumPioneers.com.