GREENEVILLE, Tenn. --- The Tusculum University men's basketball team will be looking to get back to its winning ways when the Black & Orange faces two important South Atlantic Conference tests this week.
The Pioneers (10-6, 5-3 SAC) will wrap-up a three-game road swing with Wednesday's visit to arch-rival Carson-Newman University (7:30 p.m.) before returning home on Saturday for a 4 p.m. match-up against Wingate University at Pioneer Arena.
RECAPPING LAST WEEK
Tusculum is coming off a 0-2 week where the Sons of Davy Crockett dropped road match-ups at Mars Hill University and Coker University.
The Pioneers fell behind by 11 points in the second half at Mars Hill, but mounted a furious comeback and took a 66-64 lead following a Tariq Jenkins' basket with five seconds remaining in regulation. But the Lions' Ja'Shawn Brooks nailed a three-pointer with 0.4 seconds remaining to give MHU a 67-66 win over the Pioneers, snapping Tusculum's four-game winning streak.
In the game, TU senior Dillon Smith led the Pioneers with 16 points off the bench including three free throws with 42 seconds remaining to give TU its first lead of the night at 62-61 and cap a 13-2 run. Sophomore Trenton Gibson added 13 points and nine rebounds, while junior Brandon Mitchell accounted for six points, two blocks, four steals and game-high 11 rebounds.
In Saturday's game at Coker, it was a tale of two halves as the Pioneers shot lights out in the first period and took a 44-30 lead into the locker room. But the Cobras out-scored Tusculum 37-14 in the second half including 27-8 in the final 12:35 as Coker rallied to a 67-58 win.
The Carson-Newman Eagles (5-9, 2-6 SAC) have dropped their last four outings including Saturday's 84-72 home loss to 24th-ranked Queens University of Charlotte. The Eagles found themselves behind by 16 points with 10 minutes remaining (66-50), but C-N would rattle off nine straight to trim the deficit to 71-64 with 4:42 to play. But a bolt of lightning knocked out the power on the Jefferson City campus, causing a one-hour delay. When the power was restored and play resumed, Queens closed out the game with a 13-8 run to thwart the C-N rally.
Tennessee State transfer Tripp Davis is one of the hottest scorers in the league of late, averaging nearly 24 points per game in his last four outings, including 26 markers in Saturday's loss to Queens. Davis is 13th in the league in scoring averaging 16.3 ppg. Junior EJ Bush is second on the team in scoring with 14.4 points per game while his 8.6 rebounds per game average is tops on the team and second in the SAC.
The Eagles lead the conference in total rebounds per game averaging 44.43 per contest which is fourth-best in NCAA Division II including 14.14 offensive boards per game which is second in the SAC and 15th in the nation. C-N is third in the league in scoring offense posting 89.4 point per game (18th in NCAA II), but the Eagles are allowing 85.4 points per outing, which is next to last in the SAC.
Wednesday will be the 147th recording meeting with Carson-Newman in a series that the Eagles have dominated, 97-49. The Pioneers have won 20 of the last 34 meetings including a season-sweep last year. Since 2003, Tusculum owns a 12-5 record at C-N's Holt Fieldhouse when playing the Eagles,
It has been a roller-coaster type of a season for the Wingate Bulldogs (7-7, 3-5 SAC) so far this year. Wingate jumped out of the gate 4-0 including an impressive road win at Belmont Abbey. But a seven-game losing streak followed including an unprecedented 0-5 start to the South Atlantic Conference season.
But the Bulldogs have righted the ship of late with three straight wins over Mars Hill (103-93), Anderson (90-81) and Saturday's 77-74 home triumph over UVa-Wise. In that game, Wingate missed its first 12 field goal attempts and trailed 11-1 early against the visiting Cavaliers. WU would rally and closed out the game with a 14-4 run and also shot a blistering 22-of-24 from the free throw line to secure the victory.
Jarren Cottingham is the Bulldogs leading scorer averaging 17.4 points per game which is 10th-best in the league including a career-high 38 points against Mars Hill to spark Wingate's current three-game winning streak.
Prior to Saturday's match-up with Tusculum, the Bulldogs will be at Newberry on Wednesday night.
This weekend's clash will be the 46th meeting between Tusculum and Wingate with the Bulldogs leading the series 30-15. The Pioneers swept the season series last year, a first since achieving the feat in the 2009-10 campaign.
Rebounding and defense continues to be the strengths of the Coach JT Burton's club through 16 games this season. Despite the last two losses, the Pioneers 10-6 overall record and 5-3 league start is one of the program's best in recent memory.
Tusculum leads NCAA Division II in both rebound margin (+12.3) and offensive rebounds per game (17.69 rpg), while its 42.4 total rebounds per game average is second in the league and ninth-best in the country. The Pioneers are allowing just 68.9 points per game which is second in the conference and just outside the nation's top-50.
Junior Brandon Mitchell has been the hottest Pioneer of late averaging a double-double in his last three games with 12.7 points and 13.3 rebounds per contest. His 8.4 rebounds per game average this year is third in the conference while his 4.0 offensive rebounds per game tally is best in the SAC and ranked ninth in NCAA II. He also leads the conference in blocked shots, swatting 2.06 per game (21st in NCAA II).
Tusculum senior Tariq Jenkins leads the team in scoring averaging 14.3 points per game, which is 19th in the SAC. Sophomore guard Trenton Gibson is second on the team in both scoring (12.4 ppg) and rebounding (6.4 rpg), while his 3.9 assists (7th in SAC) and 1.7 steals per game (10th in SAC) averages are tops on the squad.
FOLLOW THE GAMES
The "Voice of the Pioneers" Brian Stayton describes 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.