GREENEVILLE, Tenn. --- Strong shooting in the fourth quarter helped Tusculum University finish off a 58-49 victory over Queens University of Charlotte Saturday afternoon in South Atlantic Conference women's basketball action at Pioneer Arena.
Mia Long scored eight of her 12 points in the final period as the Pioneers (17-5, 12-4 SAC) nearly saw the Royals erase a 10-point third-quarter deficit. Queens pulled within one point early in the fourth quarter, but Tusculum's defense held the Royals scoreless for the final 3:18 to finish a sweep of the season series and clinch a berth in the upcoming SAC Women's Basketball Championship tournament.
Kirsten Click hit four three-pointers and matched Long for the team high with a career-best 12 points for the Pioneers, who shot 32.1 percent (17-for-53) from the field but went 17-for-23 at the free throw line, including 10-for-12 in the decisive fourth quarter. Tusculum never trailed in the game, but the lead was in single digits for all but a span of 90 seconds in the third quarter when the Pioneers held a 36-26 lead following a Click three-pointer.
Kristian Eanes, who did not play when the Pioneers beat the Royals 71-55 in Charlotte on Dec. 21, led Queens (5-17, 4-12 SAC) with a game-high 20 points along with six rebounds. Taylor Stevens added 11 points and seven rebounds for the Royals, who shot 36.4 percent (20-for-55) from the field but turned the ball over 20 times which led to 21 Tusculum points. The Pioneers turned the ball over just nine times and also recorded a season-high eight blocked shots, including two each from Kasey Johnson and Elle Hutchinson.
Click, making her second straight start, was 4-for-9 from three-point range as the Pioneers connected on seven three-pointers in 29 attempts as a team. Long was just 2-for-7 from the field, but hit 7-for-8 from the foul line and added four rebounds, four assists and a pair of steals. Maddie Sutton finished with eight points and a team-high seven rebounds for the Pioneers, while Johnson added eight points, five boards and three steals.
Tusculum took the lead on the game's first possession on a three-pointer from Click, and ran off seven straight points to go up 10-2 on two free throws from Jalia Arnwine with 6:36 left in the first half. A three-pointer from Marta Rodrigues gave the Pioneers a 13-7 lead with 5:19 to play in the half, but the Royals crept within 13-12 on baskets from Eanes and Julia Raflund. Three-pointers from Long and Click would push the Pioneers' lead to 19-14 after one quarter, as Tusculum hit four three-pointers in the opening 10 minutes.
Tusculum's lead grew to 24-17 on a three-point play by Hutchinson with 6:30 left in the second quarter, but baskets from Caitlyn Moore and Stevens pulled the Royals within 24-21 with 4:37 remaining in the half. The basket by Stevens would be the last field goal of the half for the Royals, who went 0-for-4 from the field with three turnovers over the final 4 1/2 minutes. Neither team would score from the field following a basket from Brianna Dixon with 2:28 left in the half, as Tusculum carried a 31-24 lead into intermission.
Ten different players scored in the first half for the Pioneers, led by six points from Click and four apiece from Sutton, Long and Rodrigues. The Pioneers shot 31.3 percent (10-for-32) from the field in the opening half, and were 0-for-3 from three-point range in the second quarter to end the half at 25 percent (4-for-16) from long range. For Queens, Eanes shot 4-for-12 from the field and scored a game-high nine points in the first half, with five points and three rebounds from Stevens. Queens shot 37.5 percent (9-for-24) from the field and turned the ball over 13 times in the opening half.
The Pioneers seemed poised to turn the game into a runaway as a three-pointer from Click gave Tusculum a 36-26 lead with 7:43 to go in the third quarter. However, the Pioneers would miss their next four shot attempts as the Royals cut the deficit to 36-32 on a layup by Stevens with 4:12 to go in the third. A three-pointer from Arnwine with 3:58 left pushed the Tusculum lead back to seven at 39-32, but the Pioneers would again go cold from the field, missing their last five shots of the quarter while the Royals pulled within 39-36 on a basket by Stevens with 43 seconds to play in the period. Tusculum shot just 3-for-14 from the field in the third quarter as the Pioneers took a three-point lead into the fourth.
Eanes brought the Royals within a point at 39-38 on a layup to start the fourth quarter, but two free throws from Long and two more from Johnson stretched the Tusculum lead to 43-38 with 8:42 left. Sutton then converted a layup and Click nailed a three-pointer from the corner as Tusculum grabbed a 48-40 lead with 7:21 left. Queens would cut the margin to 53-49 on a three-pointer from Eanes with 3:18 to play, but the Royals missed their final seven shots as Tusculum scored the final five points, including four from Long on a layup with 1:55 left and two foul shots with 34 seconds remaining.
Moore finished the game with five points, five rebounds and a game-high six assists for Queens, who received just four points from its bench to 13 from Tusculum's. Queens outrebounded Tusculum 41-33 in the game, with the Royals turning 17 offensive rebounds into 12 second-chance points.
The Pioneers, who remain tied for third place in the SAC with Carson-Newman at 12-4, will host Mars Hill on Wednesday, Feb. 12 at 5:30 p.m. at Pioneer Arena. Tusculum beat Mars Hill 94-59 in their first meeting at Mars Hill on Jan. 8, as the Pioneers made a school-record tying 18 three-pointers in the victory. The Lions (2-20, 0-16 SAC) lost their 14th straight game overall and 38th straight SAC contest on Saturday at home to Catawba by a score of 85-49.