GREENEVILLE, Tenn. --- The Tusculum University men's basketball team will look to return to its winning ways when the Pioneers face a pair of South Atlantic Conference foes this week.
TU (11-9, 6-6 SAC) will travel to Lenoir-Rhyne on Wednesday night before returning home for Saturday afternoon's clash with Newberry. It will be the second time around the league slate as the Pioneers recorded wins over the Bears and Wolves earlier this season.
This week's match-ups are crucial as both Lenoir-Rhyne and Newberry are locked in a three-way for third place in the league standings, while the Pioneers are one game out of the top-four, but are tied for sixth in the conference race.
Saturday's home doubleheader with Newberry is Military and First Responders Day as all past and present members of the armed forces along with police, firefighters, paramedics and emergency medical technicians will be admitted free.
LAST WEEK IN REVIEW
Tusculum dropped a pair of games last week, falling to third-ranked Lincoln Memorial, 96-81 at Pioneer Arena. TU lost its fifth game in its last six outings in an 82-75 defeat at Catawba on Saturday.
In last Wednesday's loss to LMU, the visiting Railsplitters placed all five starters in double figures and shot 66 percent from the floor to record their 18th consecutive win and avenge last year's loss to Tusculum.
TU's Tariq Jenkins led the Pioneers with 17 points, while Brandon Mitchell and Trenton Gibson tallied 16 points apiece. Mitchell finished with 10 rebounds for his team-leading fifth double-double of the year, while TU rookie Keaston Brown tallied a season-high 10 points of the bench.
In Saturday's game at Catawba, the Indians used a 20-3 first half run and held on late for the seven-point victory. Jenkins led TU with his 18 points, four rebounds and five assists. Dillon Smith added 16 markers, while Gibson and freshman Joshua Scott tallied 13 points each.
PREVIEWING THIS WEEK
The Pioneers will face two of the surging teams in the South Atlantic Conference this week in Lenoir-Rhyne and Newberry. Both teams will be looking to avenge earlier losses to the Pioneers.
Lenoir-Rhyne has rebounded from an 0-4 league start to winning seven of its last eight including Saturday's 82-80 victory over nationally-ranked Queens University of Charlotte for the Bears' fourth win in a row and avenge a road loss to the Royals.
Tusculum defeat Lenoir-Rhyne 70-58 on Nov. 26 in the league opener for both teams as the Pioneers led wire-to-wire. Gibson led TU with 19 points, while Jenkins added 15 markers in the victory.
In Saturday's win over Queens, Darius Simmons paced the Bears with a season-high 30 points, while R.J. Gunn added 21 markers. Gunn was L-R's top scorer against Tusculum this year with his 22 points.
Gunn leads Lenoir-Rhyne in scoring, averaging 19.3 points which is sixth on the team. Simmons is second on the squad with his 17.9 ppg average (8th in SAC). Davion Bradford leads the conference in steals (2.35 spg – 15th in SAC), while the Bears are second in the league in fewest turnovers made per game (13.0) and second in three-pointers made per outing (11.2 – 17th in SAC).
Newberry has won four of its last five games including Saturday's 104-71 dismantling of Mars Hill. The Wolves connected on 19 three-pointers and went 17-of-20 from the foul line for 85 percent. Marcus Ford paced six Newberry players in double figures with his 18 points off the bench, while Tai Giger tallied 13 markers as he did not miss a shot on the day (3-of-3 from 3FG, 4-of-4 from FT). The Wolves had 24 assists on its 34 made field goals in Saturday's victory.
Tusculum won at Newberry, 65-61 back on Dec. 7 as Jenkins scored 16 of his team-high 20 points in the second half. Scott tallied 14 points and Justin Mitchell posted 10 points as TU notched its third straight win over the Wolves.
Angelo Sales, Jr. leads Newberry in scoring and rebounding, averaging 14.7 points per game and a SAC-best 9.4 boards per contest (26th in NCAA II). He led the Wolves in this year's first meeting with Tusculum with his 23 points.
Newberry will host Catawba on Wednesday night in a battle to stay in third place.
Tusculum leads the country in rebound margin at +11.1 and in offensive rebounds per contest posting 17.6 per game. TU's 41.9 total rebounds per game average is second in the league and 11th in the nation. The Pioneers are also tops in the conference in steals, posting 9.3 thefts per outing (15th in NCAA II) as well as blocked shots per game (4.2 bpg – 29th in NCAA II).
Jenkins leads the Pioneers in scoring averaging 14.3 points per game (18th in SAC) including 17.5 ppg in his last two contests. He leads TU with his 1.7 steals per game (7th in SAC) and is grabbing 2.9 rebounds per game including 3.4 rpg in his last nine appearances.
Trenton Gibson, the 2019 SAC Freshman of the Year, is second on the roster in scoring and rebounding with 12.3 points (25th in SAC) and 6.1 rebounds (14th in SAC) per outing. But Gibson leads TU in assists (3.6 apg – 8th in SAC) and free throw shooting (.796 – 17th in SAC).
Junior forward Brandon Mitchell has been pacing the Pioneers on the glass with his team-leading 8.1 rebounds per game (3rd in SAC), including a SAC-best 3.9 offensive boards per outing (7th in NCAA II). Mitchell also continues to lead the conference in blocked shots, swatting 2.2 per game (16th in NCAA II) including 3.2 per contest in his last nine appearances.
Smith has been increasing his offensive output of late averaging 13.2 points per game and improve his seasonal average to 9.0 ppg.
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.