GREENEVILLE, Tenn. --- The Tusculum University women's basketball team plays its final tuneup for the start of the South Atlantic Conference schedule when the Pioneers host Johnson & Wales on Friday at 6 p.m. at Pioneer Arena.
The Pioneers (4-1) opened the season with four consecutive victories, including wins over Clayton State (93-62) and Georgia College (76-52) last Tuesday and Friday, respectively. The Pioneers' unbeaten start was ended by nationally-ranked North Georgia on Saturday by a 75-55 score on the final day of the Nighthawk Classic.
Tusculum moved up to fifth in the latest D2SIDA Southeast Region rankings this week, up from a tie for eighth in the preseason poll.
RECAPPING THE WEEK
Tusculum played its home opener against Clayton State on Tuesday and received a game-high 23 points from Mia Long, who added eight assists, six steals and five rebounds in the 93-62 victory. Sydney Wilson added 22 points as the Pioneers led by 23 at halftime, then outscored the Lakers 40-20 over the final 14 minutes.
Kasey Johnson had 12 points and a game-high nine rebounds for the Pioneers, who also received 10 points and seven boards from Maddie Sutton. The Pioneers held Clayton State to 35.1 percent shooting and forced the Lakers, who were ranked sixth in the Southeast Region by D2SIDA, into 25 turnovers.
On Friday, the Pioneers opened play at the UNG Nighthawk Classic with a 76-52 victory over Georgia College. Sutton scored a career-high 16 points and had six rebounds as the Pioneers went on a 21-2 run in the second quarter to roll to the win. Brianna Dixon had 13 points off the bench for Tusculum, which made 11 three-pointers in the game and led by as many as 35 points late in the third quarter.
Off the bench, Elle Hutchinson, Aliyah Miller and Jasmine Williams each scored eight points and Mya Belton added six. As a team, the Pioneers received 46 of their 76 points from the reserves in the victory.
The Pioneers' winning streak came to an end on Saturday against North Georgia, the defending Southeast Region champions who were ranked 15th by D2SIDA and 23rd by the WBCA entering the game. The Nighthawks scored 19 straight points across the second and third quarters and handed the Pioneers a 75-55 loss. Long led Tusculum with 17 points and Johnson had 11 points and a team-high six rebounds, but the Pioneers shot just 32.2 percent from the field.
North Georgia placed four players in double figures and shot 52 percent from the field, including well over 60 percent into the second half. The Nighthawks outrebounded the Pioneers 41-28 and scored 19 points off 13 Tusculum turnovers.
Friday's game will be the first-ever meeting between the Pioneers and the Wildcats. Johnson & Wales, an NAIA school from Charlotte, North Carolina, entered the week with a 3-2 record, which included a 131-30 win over South Carolina Faith A&M and a 121-61 loss to North Carolina A&T. Last Friday, the Wildcats lost 67-61 to Brunswick Community College after shooting 29 percent from the field. JWU was scheduled to play at Salem (NC) on Wednesday before coming to Tusculum on Friday.
Senior forward Justice Wallace is the leading scorer for the Wildcats at 16.6 points and 7.6 rebounds per game, followed by junior guard Ja'Yon Leak at 15.5 points and 3.5 assists per contest. Senior forward Ineesha Hankerson is JWU's leader in rebounding, averaging 11.4 boards per game to go along with 12.6 points per contest. As a team, JWU is averaging 79.6 points per game but also commits 31.2 turnovers per contest.
Long, who led Division II in steals per game last season with 3.96, is sixth in the SAC so far this season with 2.6 steals per game. She leads the Pioneers and ranks 12th in the SAC with 13.8 points per game, while ranking 11th in field goal percentage at 53.2 percent.
Johnson, who is averaging 11.4 points per game, is eighth in the conference in three-point percentage at 47.1 percent (8-for-17). Johnson also ranks 12th in the SAC in free-throw percentage at 84.6 percent (11-for-13), just behind Sutton who is 11th in the league at 85.7 percent (12-for-14) from the stripe.
Johnson is just 19 points away from becoming the 17th player in program history to score 1,000 career points, while Wilson is just 109 points away from the milestone. Long, who has scored 1,000 career points between her stints at Tusculum and Concordia (Michigan), has tallied 701 points in her Tusculum career.
As a team, the Pioneers lead the SAC in turnover margin (+7.6 per game) and are second in free-throw percentage (80.5 percent), which is 16th overall in Division II, fewest turnovers per game at 13.8, and turnovers forced per game at 21.4.
Links to live stats and video for Tusculum University athletic events can be found through tusculumpioneers.com.