GREENEVILLE, Tenn. --- The Tusculum University men's basketball team will be looking to build upon an undefeated week as the Pioneers travel to UVa-Wise on Wednesday before returning home to host defending South Atlantic Conference champion Queens University of Charlotte on Saturday.
Tusculum (12-9, 8-6 SAC) completed season sweeps over Lenoir-Rhyne and Newberry with wins last week and are looking for the same this week when they take on the Cavaliers and Royals. The Pioneers are locked in a tie for fourth place in the SAC standings with Anderson and are just one game removed from second place with Queens and Catawba sharing that position.
Saturday's home game against Queens is part of Tusculum Basketball Alumni Weekend as former TU greats will be back on campus for a reunion of the men's and women's programs.
LAST WEEK IN REVIEW
Sophomore guard Trenton Gibson averaged 21 points per game last week including a career-best 26 markers in Tusculum's 77-70 road win at Lenoir-Rhyne. He scored 13 points in each half and went 7-of-8 from the free throw line.
The Pioneers used a 20-5 run in the final 8:25 of the first half to take a 37-25 lead at the intermission against the Bears. L-R whittled the lead down to one late in the game, but the Pioneers made their final 16 free throws including nine in the final 1:32 to claim its first win in Hickory in five seasons.
Junior Brandon Mitchell tied a season-best with 19 points, while grabbing 10 rebounds for his team-leading sixth double-double of the year. Senior Dillon Smith added nine points and a career-best six rebounds, while freshman Keaston Brown scored eight points in his first career start.
In Tusculum's 75-66 home win over Newberry, Smith led the Pioneers with 20 points including a perfect 8-of-8 from the charity stripe. TU led wire-to-wire scoring the game's first 11 points and later used a 15-0 spurt to take a commanding 29-9 lead with five minutes left before halftime.
Gibson accounted for 16 points, seven rebounds and six assists for the Pioneers while Mitchell finished with 15 points, seven boards and three blocked shots.
PREVIEWING THIS WEEK
Tusculum will travel to UVa-Wise on Wednesday night for the first time since 2003 and will make their inaugural visit to the Prior Convention Center. It will be the 34th recording meeting between the Pioneers and the Cavaliers as TU owns a 21-12 advantage in the series including last November's 86-84 victory over Wise. In that game, Tusculum overcame a 10-point second half deficit and closed out the game with a 13-3 run.
It has been a tough season for UVa-Wise in its inaugural South Atlantic Conference season. The Cavs are 5-15 overall and 1-13 in SAC play and enter Wednesday's game riding a nine-game losing streak. UVa-Wise's last win came against Ohio University-Chillicothe, less than 15 hours after losing at Tusculum.
During their losing streak, the Cavs have been in every contest, including last Saturday's 67-66 home loss to Catawba where Wise had a 13-point lead in the opening half.
Cameron Whiteside leads the Cavs offensively with his 20 points (4th in SAC) and 7.1 rebounds per game (7th in SAC). Briggs Paris is second on the team in scoring with his 14.3 points per game average including a season-best 36 markers in this year's first encounter with Tusculum. In that game, Briggs went 8-of-10 from beyond the three-point arc and 11-of-13 from the field overall.
Queens will be looking to avenge last December's 67-61 home loss to the Pioneers. The Royals are 14-6 overall and 9-5 in SAC play and are tied with Catawba for second place. Queens responded well after the TU loss winning six in a row, but have stumbled of late dropping three in a row including Saturday's 103-80 home loss to second-ranked Lincoln Memorial.
All-American guard Daniel Carr leads the Royals averaging 17.9 points per game (8th in SAC), but missed two games in December due to injury including the Dec. 21 loss to Tusculum. He returned to the Queens line-up after the holiday break and is averaging 19.8 ppg in his last nine outings.
Jamari Smith is second on the team in scoring (12.5 ppg) and rebounding (6.8 rpg – 8th in SAC), while Gavin Rains leads Queens on the boards with his 7.1 rebounds per game (6th in SAC).
Saturday will be the 18th meeting between Tusculum and Queens in a series which the Royals have dominated, 15-2.
Tusculum's stranglehold on being the national leader in rebound margin has slipped of late as the Pioneers are second in the country in rebound margin at +11.0 just behind Lander (+11.4). TU continues to lead the country in offensive rebounds per game, hauling in 17.36 per contest.
The Pioneers continue to lead the SAC in both steals (9.0 spg – 18th in NCAA II) and blocked shots per game (4.1 bpg – 32nd in NCAA II).
Senior guard Tariq Jenkins leads the team in scoring average at 14.3 points per game (18th in SAC), but missed last week's two games due to injury. He poured in team-highs in December's first match-ups with UVa-Wise and Queens. He tallied 25 points against Wise and followed with 20 points against Queens including 15 markers in the second half.
Gibson is second on the roster in scoring average with 13 points per contest (24th in SAC), but took over the team-lead in total points with 287, one point better than Jenkins' 286. Gibson is the team leader in assists (3.7 – 8th in SAC) and free throw percentage (.802 – 17th in SAC).
Mitchell leads the SAC in blocked shots per game averaging 2.32 per contest (12th in SAC) including 3.3 rejections in his last 11 games. His team-best 8.1 rebounds per game average is third in the conference and is third on the team in scoring averaging 10 points per outing, including 14.5 ppg in his last four games.
Smith has also stepped it up of late offensive averaging 13.5 points per game in his last eight contests to raise his scoring average to 9.5 ppg. He is shooting a blistering 92 percent from the foul line and enters this week's action making 23 consecutive free throws.
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.