GREENEVILLE, Tenn. --- For a second consecutive season, the Tusculum University men's basketball team will host a quarterfinal round game of the Pilot/Flying J South Atlantic Conference Basketball Championship.
The Pioneers (18-12) are the No. 4 seed for a second straight season as they host No. 5 seed Anderson University (17-11) this Wednesday (March 4) at 7:30 p.m. at Pioneer Arena for the right to move onto the semifinal on Saturday (March 7) at Timmons Arena in Greenville, South Carolina. The championship game will be next Sunday (March 8) at 4 p.m. at Timmons Arena with the tournament champion earning the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Division II Tournament.
Admission to Wednesday's SAC Quarterfinal is $8 for adults, $4 for youth ages 6-12 and for seniors age 65 and older, and $4 for active and retired members of the military. College students with valid ID will be admitted for $2. Tusculum University students, who show a valid TU ID, will have their admission charge covered by the Tusculum athletic department. No complimentary tickets or pass lists will be available, although SAC passes will be honored. The single admission will also cover the women's SAC Quarterfinal home game against Wingate, which will tip off at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday prior to the men's contest.
Live video, statistics and audio of Wednesday's SAC Quarterfinal doubleheader at Tusculum will be available through links at www.TusculumPioneers.com, with local radio coverage provided through the Pioneer Sports Network on 95.5 FM and 1450 AM (WSMG).
THE REST OF THE TOURNAMENT
Lincoln Memorial University is the top-seed in this year's SAC Championship as the Railsplitters, ranked No. 2 nationally in NCAA II, are riding a 28-game winning streak entering the postseason. LMU will host No. 8 seed Mars Hill University in a quarterfinal. The winner of the Tusculum/Anderson match-up will face the LMU/Mars Hill victor in Saturday's first semifinal in Greenville.
Queens University of Charlotte is the No. 2 seed and will face No. 7 seed Lenoir-Rhyne University. No. 3 seed Catawba College hosts No. 6 Newberry College to round out the SAC Tournament field.
Tusculum and Anderson meet for a third time this season but a first-ever in the SAC Basketball Tournament. The Pioneers swept the regular-season series with Trojans winning 70-54 at Pioneer Arena on Jan. 4 and followed with a 74-66 win at Anderson on Feb. 15. Anderson leads the all-time series 16-6, including 7-4 in games played at Pioneer Arena.
Tusculum will be hosting its sixth SAC Quarterfinal in program history as TU is 3-2 all-time, including last year's opening round loss to then No. 5-seed Lenoir-Rhyne as the Bears parlayed that victory to advance to the SAC Championship game.
The Pioneers are 9-16 all-time in the SAC Tournament including 4-2 in games played at Pioneer Arena. Tusculum's lone SAC Tournament championship came in 2005.
Anderson is looking for its first SAC Tournament crown as the Trojans advanced to the finals on two occasions in 2012 falling to Wingate University and in 2014 losing to Lincoln Memorial.
Tusculum will has not won a SAC Tournament game since 2011 winning 67-62 in triple overtime at Newberry in the quarterfinal round. Since then, TU has lost is last six SAC Tournament games. Anderson will be looking to end a four-game SAC Tournament drought with its last win coming against Coker in the 2014 semifinal.
TUSCULUM SCOUTING REPORT
Tusculum head coach JT Burton has turned the Pioneer program around which suffered through eight straight losing seasons prior to his arrival and responded with back-to-back winning campaigns for the first time since the 2008-09 (20-11) and 2009-10 (16-12) seasons. TU went 16-13 last year and have improved by two wins this year and posted its second top-tier finish in the conference in as many seasons.
Defense and rebounding have been the staples of this year's Tusculum squad. The Pioneers lead the conference in turnovers forced (15.2 tpg), steals (8.9 spg), rebounds per game (40.9 rpg), rebounds allowed per game (31.7 rpg), rebound margin (+9.2) and offensive rebounds per game (16.33 rpg – 1st in NCAA II). TU is also second in the league in scoring defense (70.4 ppg) and blocked shots per game (3.9 bpg).
Leading the charge for the Pioneers is sophomore guard Trenton Gibson (Murfreesboro, Tenn.). Gibson, last season's SAC Freshman of the Year, has followed his solid rookie campaign with an outstanding sophomore year where he leads the team in scoring (13.6 ppg), assists (4.0 apg – 5th in SAC) and free throw percentage (.811 – 12th in SAC). He is also third on the team in rebounding (6.1 rpg – 15th in SAC) and recorded the second triple-double in program history in this year's season-opener against USC Aiken.
Senior guard Tariq Jenkins (Riverdale, Ga.) is second on the team in offensive production, averaging 13.1 points per contest. Jenkins leads the team with his 46 steals and is averaging 1.6 thefts per game which are fifth in the conference.
Senior teammate Dillon Smith (Lexington, Tenn.) is third with his 11.5 points per game average as he is the team's top three-point shooter with 55 made treys and has connected on a triple in 14 consecutive contests. Smith has scored in double figures in his last nine games, averaging 17.3 points per outing during that span. In those games, he has scored a career-best 22 points on three occasions including in Saturday's road loss at Wingate in the regular-season finale.
Junior forward Brandon Mitchell (Virginia Beach, Va.) has been one of most improved players on the team this year where he is averaging 9.6 points per contest and leads the team in rebounding averaging eight boards per contest, which is third in the league. His 3.73 offensive rebounds per game average is tops in the SAC and ranked seventh in the country. He leads the team with eight double-doubles and his 58 blocked shots are a new TU single-season record. Mitchell finished the year averaging 1.9 blocks per game which are second in the conference.
Caleb Hodnett, a graduate student from Adolphus, Kentucky, is the seasoned veteran of the roster where he has played for three different head coaches in his 110-game career in Greeneville. Hodnett is averaging 8.9 points per game in his final TU season and is second on the team in rebounding tallying 6.2 boards per contest (14th in SAC). In his career, he has totaled 848 points including 109 made three-point field goals. His 578 career rebounds are 10th-most by a Pioneer.
Senior center Cameron King (London, England) is accounting for 2.6 points and 3.3 rebounds per game. His 16 blocks are second on the roster and his 49 blocked shots over the past two years are already seventh-most in the TU record book. King is also one of the most improved free throw shooters in the country. In his first TU campaign, he shot just 25.6 percent (11-of-43) from the foul line, but has gone 23-of-30 this year for 76.7 percent.
Coach Burton's roster also includes some talented rookies who have shined in their freshmen campaigns. Joshua Scott (Pompano Beach, Fla.) leads the TU freshmen averaging 5.6 points and 2.6 rebounds per game. Scott has played in 27 games including seven starts. Justin Mitchell (Lexington, Ky.) has also been a force for TU, posting 4.2 points and 2.7 rebounds per game. Mitchell has played in 25 games with seven starts. Freshman point guard Keaston Brown (Lexington, Ky.) worked his way into the starting line-up down the stretch with seven straight times in the starting-five as TU went 6-1 during that span. He is averaging 2.1 points, 1.1 rebounds and 0.9 assists per contest. Rookie DyQuavis Wilkins (Greenville, N.C.) is the only freshman to have played in all 30 games this year. His best game came last Wednesday as he posted 12 points against Lincoln Memorial. Redshirt freshman guard Zack Dixon has seen action in 20 games in a reserve role where he has totaled 37 points and 20 rebounds this year.
SCOUTING THE TROJANS
Anderson returns to the SAC Basketball Championship for a fourth straight year where the Trojans are 5-7 all-time league tournament play.
Quin Nottingham leads Anderson offensively averaging 20 points per game which is third in the SAC including 12 points each in his two meetings this year with the Pioneers. Shawn Benard is second on the roster with his 16.5 points per game average, while Crosby James, II is third with 12.8 points per outing.
Junior Josh Livingston is AU's rebound leader with 6.1 boards per game, while Benard is second with 5.1 rebounds per contest and is the team-leader with his 5.1 assists per night.
Like Tusculum, Anderson has clinched back-to-back winning seasons after going 16-13 a year ago and are two years removed from 2017-18 as AU finished with a 10-19 mark.