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Pioneers face Mars Hill, Anderson in key SAC match-ups

Pioneers face Mars Hill, Anderson in key SAC match-ups

GREENEVILLE, Tenn. --- The Tusculum University men's basketball team takes on Mars Hill University and Anderson University in a pair of key South Atlantic Conference match-ups.

Tusculum hosts Mars Hill on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. at Pioneer Arena, before making Saturday's trip to Anderson for a 4 p.m. tip-off at the Abney Athletic Center.

The Pioneers (14-10, 9-7 SAC) are locked in a two-way tie for fourth place in the league standings with Anderson, while Mars Hill and two other teams are just one-game behind in sixth.

RECAPPING LAST WEEK

Tusculum went 1-1 last week as the Pioneers posted its third straight victory with a 78-68 win at UVa-Wise last Wednesday. Senior Dillon Smith scored a career-high 22 points, while Caleb Hodnett and Brandon Mitchell each posted a double-double as the Pioneers completed the season-sweep over the Cavaliers.

The Pioneers, who never trailed in the contest, connected on 10 three-pointers including a career-best five by Smith. Hodnett tallied season-highs with 18 points and 12 rebounds for his second double-double of the season and fifth of his career. Mitchell accounted for a team-best eighth double-double with his 10 points and 12 boards.

Tusculum's bid for four straight wins came to a halt in Saturday's 87-72 home setback at the hands of defending SAC champion Queens University of Charlotte.  TU sophomore Trenton Gibson scored 20 points and dished out seven assists, while Hodnett finished with 15 markers and nine rebounds.

SCOUTING THE PIONEERS

Tusculum's stranglehold on being the national leader in rebound margin has slipped of late as the Pioneers are now fourth in in the country in rebound margin at +9.9.  TU continues to lead the nation in offensive rebounds per game, hauling in 16.92 per contest. The Pioneers also still lead the SAC in both steals (9.0 spg – 18th in NCAA II) and blocked shots per game (3.9 bpg – 41st in NCAA II). TU's 94 blocks this year are tied for sixth in school history, while their 215 steals are the ninth most in a season.

Senior guard Tariq Jenkins leads the team in scoring average at 13.8 points per game (19th in SAC) and returned to the TU line-up last Wednesday at UVa-Wise after missing games against Lenoir-Rhyne and Newberry.

Gibson is second on the roster in scoring, averaging 13.4 points per contest (21st in SAC). Gibson is the team leader in assists at 4.0 helpers per game (6th in SAC), including 5.8 apg in his last five games.

Mitchell leads the SAC in blocked shots per game averaging 2.25 per contest (11th in NCAA II) including 3.0 rejections in his last 13 games. His team-best 8.0 rebounds per game average is fourth in the conference and is fourth on the team in scoring averaging 9.8 points per outing.  He also leads the team with eight double-doubles.

Smith has also stepped it up of late offensively averaging 17.3 points per game in his last three contests to raise his scoring average to 10 ppg.  He is shooting a blistering 89 percent from the foul line.

Hodnett has also provided an increase in offensive production averaging 12 points and 10.3 rebounds per game in his last four games. He is averaging 9.6 points and 6.6 rebounds per contest (9th in SAC).  On Saturday, he recorded his 800th career point.

SCOUTING THE OPPOSITION

The Mars Hill Lions have been one of the big surprises in the South Atlantic Conference this season. MHU (10-12, 8-8 SAC) is battling to earn a spot in next month's SAC Tournament as the Lions find themselves in the heat of the league chase.

Mars Hill has won three of its last four games and will be looking for its first season sweep of the Pioneers since the 2004-05 campaign.  MHU snapped a seven-game losing streak to their cross-mountain rivals last month in a 67-66 win as Ja'Shawn Brooks nailed a three-pointer with 0.4 seconds remaining.

The Lions also had their three-game winning halted in Saturday's 113-97 road loss at Catawba.  Javonte Cooke led MHU with a career-best 33 points (off the bench), while also grabbing a team-high seven rebounds. Cooke went 10-of-19 from the floor and 13-of-14 from the free throw line.  

Brooks leads the Lions in scoring averaging 19.7 points per game and is shooting a team-best 89.7 percent from the free throw line, both ranked third in the league.

As team the Lions are averaging 84.5 points per game which is third in the SAC, but are last in the conference in scoring defense at 88.8 ppg.

Outside of the league's top-trio, the hottest team in the conference may be the Anderson Trojans (14-8, 9-7 SAC).  AU has won five of its last six games and seven of its last nine to climb into a tie for fourth in the SAC standings.

Anderson was riding a season-long five-game winning streak before Saturday's 89-85 loss at Lenoir-Rhyne in a game that featured 12 lead changes. Senior guard Shawn Benard led the Trojans with a career-high 30 points, while freshman guard Crosby James added 21 points and grabbed seven rebounds.  Sophomore Satchel Hester tallied his first career double-double with 14 points and 14 rebounds.

Anderson, who will be at Wingate on Wednesday prior to hosting Tusculum, will be looking to avenge last month's 70-54 loss to the Pioneers in Greeneville. TU led wire-to-wire in January's victory as Mitchell led the charge with 18 points and career-bests with 17 rebounds and six blocked shots.  The Tusculum victory snapped a four-game skid to the Trojans and only the fifth win the series that began in 2006.

TU will be looking to exorcise some demons on Saturday as the Pioneers have won only once at the Abney Athletic Center in its nine previous trips to the Anderson, South Carolina campus.

AU junior Quin Nottingham is the Trojans top offensive threat, averaging 20.4 points per game which is second in the league and 43rd in NCAA Division II.  Benard is second on the team with his 17.3 points per game average (12th in SAC) and leads AU with his 5.1 assists per game (2nd in SAC / 44th in NCAA II).

The Trojans are second in the league in shooting the basketball, boasting an impressive 47.2 field goal percentage.  AU is also third in field goal percentage defense (43.2%) and fourth in scoring defense (77.6 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.

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