GREENEVILLE, Tenn. --- With victories in the last four games, the Tusculum University women's basketball team will look to remain among the leaders in the South Atlantic Conference this week as the Pioneers close the first half of conference play on Wednesday with Lincoln Memorial, then travel to league front-runner Catawba on Saturday to begin the second half of their SAC slate.
Tusculum (13-3, 8-2 SAC) reached four consecutive wins for the third time this season with victories last week at Carson-Newman on Wednesday (71-66) and at home on Saturday against Wingate (77-57). At 13-3, the Pioneers are off to their best start since the 2008-09 season and have surpassed the 70-point mark in seven of their last eight games, all victories. Tusculum opens the week in sole possession of third place in the SAC, trailing league co-leaders Catawba and Anderson. The Indians and Trojans are both 9-1 in conference play and will meet for the first of two times this season on Wednesday at Catawba.
Wednesday's game against Lincoln Memorial will tip off at 5:30 p.m. at Pioneer Arena on the Tusculum campus, while Saturday's visit to nationally-ranked Catawba starts at 2 p.m. at Goodman Gymnasium in Salisbury, North Carolina. Tusculum lost to Catawba 78-71 at home on Nov. 30.
RECAPPING THE WEEK
Sydney Wilson scored all of her 17 points in the second half, including the 1,000th of her career and the go-ahead basket in the final minute, as Tusculum rallied in the fourth quarter to defeat Carson-Newman 71-66 Wednesday night at Holt Fieldhouse. Jalia Arnwine tied her career high with four three-pointers and matched Wilson for the team lead with 17 points for the Pioneers, who improved to 5-0 on the road in conference games. The win snapped a six-game losing streak by the Pioneers to the Eagles and was just the fifth conference win for Tusculum in 21 all-time visits to Holt Fieldhouse.
Tusculum trailed by 10 points in the first half, but took the lead for good on a basket by Wilson with 37.8 seconds left before putting the game away at the foul line. The Eagles turned the ball over 22 times for the game and shot 30.8 percent in the fourth quarter, as the Pioneers erased a five-point deficit in the final four minutes by holding the Eagles without a field goal for the final 5:07.
On Saturday, the Pioneers routed Wingate 77-57 behind runs of 20-0 in the second quarter and 15-0 in the third quarter. Tusculum led by as many as 35 points and was led by Mia Long, who had 17 points, four rebounds, eight assists and six steals in 27 minutes. Kasey Johnson picked up a double-double with 13 points and a game-high 10 rebounds, and Arnwine reached double figures for the third straight game with 13 points.
Tusculum led 23-18 early in the second quarter, then held Wingate scoreless for exactly seven minutes as the Pioneers ran off 20 unanswered points to build a 45-24 lead at halftime. The Pioneers scored 30 points off 23 Wingate turnovers and snapped a seven-game losing streak to the Bulldogs.
Lincoln Memorial (6-8, 5-5 SAC) led by two points at halftime at Anderson on Saturday, but the Railsplitters were outscored 24-8 in the third quarter and lost 67-49 to the Trojans. Shermeria Quarles led LMU with 11 points off the bench, but the Railsplitters shot 32.2 percent (19-for-59) from the field and were outrebounded by the Trojans by a 51-35 margin. LMU had won two of its previous three games during a homestand, including victories over UVa-Wise (76-62) and Mars Hill (76-47) the last two Wednesdays.
The Railsplitters rank 10th in the conference in scoring average at 62.1 points per game, and are also 10th in rebounds per game (37.2) and rebound margin (-1.5). Freshman guard Lauren Flowers is the leading scorer for the Railsplitters at 11.2 points per game, but is the only player to average double figures. Flowers had a season-high 25 points in LMU's season opener with Belmont Abbey on Nov. 13, and scored 21 at Limestone on Dec. 21. Quarles is averaging 9.2 points per game and ranks fourth in the SAC in field-goal percentage (.531) and 10th in rebounding at 6.6 rebounds per contest.
LMU has beaten Tusculum in six of the last eight meetings, although the Pioneers have won two straight at home over the Railsplitters. Since Lincoln Memorial joined the SAC for the 2006-07 season, Tusculum holds a 15-11 edge in regular-season meetings and are 9-4 against the Railsplitters at Pioneer Arena in the regular season.
Catawba (14-1, 9-1 SAC) also carries a four-game winning streak into the week after the Indians beat Queens (70-57) last Wednesday and Lenoir-Rhyne (67-57) on Saturday. Against Queens, Taisha DeShazo led the Indians with 16 points while Madison Hallman paced four players in double figures with 15 points against Lenoir-Rhyne. Catawba's only loss came at home on Jan. 4 in overtime to Carson-Newman by a 69-68 score, on a free throw by Kayla Marsoites with 11.8 seconds left in overtime.
The Indians lead the SAC in several statistical categories, including scoring margin (+16.5 ppg), turnover margin (+8.07 per game), turnovers forced (26.6 per game) and free throws attempted (372) and made (242). Catawba has shot under 40 percent from the field in each of its last seven games, but has reached double figures in offensive rebounds in all 15 games this season. The Indians have broken the 100-point mark twice this year, in wins over Lees-McRae on Nov. 23 (100-51) and UVa-Wise on Dec. 7 (101-86).
DeShazo is the only player averaging double figures for Catawba, ranking sixth in the SAC at 15.3 points per game. DeShazo scored a season-high 42 points in the win over UVa-Wise and has broken the 20-point mark four times this year, though in none of the past five games. Freshman guard Lyrik Thorne averaged 8.0 points per game and Shemya Stanbeck is averaging 8.4 points per game off the bench for the Indians.
The road team has won the last three meetings between the Pioneers and the Indians, with Catawba earning a 78-71 win at Pioneer Arena on Nov. 30. Catawba leads the all-time series 24-23, and has a 12-10 lead all-time at Goodman Gymnasium.
Long has regained the scoring lead for the Pioneers at 14.0 points per game, having reached double figures in four straight games and in eight of the last 10 contests overall. The senior guard ranks ninth in the conference in scoring and fifth in field goal percentage at 51.9 percent. Long leads the SAC and ranks fourth in Division II in steals per game at 3.75, with two or more steals in 12 consecutive games.
Wilson, who became the 18th player in program history and second this season to surpass 1,000 career points, ranks 10th in the SAC in scoring at 13.6 points per game. Johnson is on the cusp of averaging double figures for the Pioneers at 9.9 points per game, while her 6.4 rebounds per game rank 11th in the conference. Maddie Sutton leads the Pioneers in rebounding and ranks ninth in the conference with 7.5 boards per game, an average that jumps to 8.8 rebounds per game in SAC contests.
Tusculum ranks eighth in Division II in turnovers forced per game at 23.56, trailing Catawba which is third nationally at 26.6 forced turnovers per game. The Pioneers lead the SAC and rank 14th nationally in steals per game (12.3), and are second in the league in fewest turnovers per game (15.8). The Pioneers' turnover margin of +7.81 per game is second in the conference to Catawba and ranks 12th in Division II.
FOLLOW THE GAMES
Brian Stayton describes all the action of Tusculum women's 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. The Pioneer Pre-Game show begins 15 minutes before tip-off, at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday prior to the Lincoln Memorial game and at 1:45 p.m. Saturday before the contest from Catawba. Live video and live stats links are also available at www.TusculumPioneers.com.