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Pioneers win SAC Championship with 61-49 victory over Anderson

Pioneers win SAC Championship with 61-49 victory over Anderson
GREENVILLE, S.C. --- Tusculum University went on a 19-0 fourth-quarter run and captured the Pilot/Flying J South Atlantic Conference Women's Basketball Championship with a 61-49 victory over Anderson University Sunday afternoon at Timmons Arena.
 
Tournament Most Valuable Player Mia Long scored a game-high 22 points and spearheaded a Pioneer defense that held the Trojans scoreless for more than 6 1/2 minutes during the decisive 19-0 fourth-quarter surge. Kasey Johnson scored all 15 of her points in the second half and added a team-high eight rebounds as Tusculum outscored Anderson 48-28 after halftime, including 26-12 in the fourth quarter.
 
The third-seeded Pioneers (24-7) forced the Trojans into seven turnovers in the final quarter and 21 for the game, while shooting 60.9 percent (14-for-23) in the second half and 16-for-19 from the foul line, including 13-for-15 in the fourth quarter to lock down the third SAC Championship tournament title in program history and first since winning back-to-back in 2010 and 2011.
 
Alexy Mollenhauer and McKenzie Gadson led the top-seeded Trojans (26-5) with 15 points apiece, and Madison Baggett added nine assists and 10 rebounds. Anderson led by as many as 10 points in the second quarter, but Tusculum was able to overcome a double-digit deficit for the second straight game after doing so in Saturday's semifinal victory over Carson-Newman.
 
Tusculum trailed 41-37 following a basket by Anderson's Taylor Hair with 8:07 remaining, but ran off the next 19 points including three-point plays from Johnson, Maddie Sutton and Aliyah Miller to take a 56-41 lead with 1:46 to go.
 
With the victory, Tusculum clinches the SAC's automatic bid to the NCAA Division II Tournament, which will begin Friday. The eight-team field in the Southeast Regional will be unveiled Sunday night at 10 p.m. The Pioneers will make their sixth NCAA appearance, with their previous five trips coming in consecutive years from 2008 through 2012.
 
Long, who averaged 14.7 points, 6.7 rebounds and 4.7 assists and 4.3 steals in three tournament games, finished 7-for-15 from the field and 6-for-9 from the foul line while playing all 40 minutes for the second time in as many days. Long also had four steals to increase her season total to 112, breaking the previous school single-season record of 109 steals set by Mitzi Alexander in 1991-92.
 
Maddie Sutton, who like Johnson was scoreless in the first half, finished with eight points and seven rebounds in 32 minutes for the Pioneers, while Brianna Dixon added seven points and four steals. Jalia Arnwine, who played just 29 minutes due to foul trouble, hit a pair of three-pointers and finished with six points for the Pioneers.
 
Tusculum, which set and then broke the SAC Championship record for three-pointers in a game with 14 in the quarterfinals against Wingate and 15 in the semifinals against Carson-Newman, went just 6-for-21 from three-point range against Anderson but finished the tournament with a record 35 threes.
 
Anderson jumped out to a quick 6-0 lead on two baskets by Mollenhauer, but Tusculum got on the board on a three-pointer from Long with 8:09 left in the first quarter. Both teams went cold from the field for nearly 3 1/2 minutes until Gadson hit a layup with 3:06 left to extend the Trojans' lead to 11-6.
 
Tusculum went scoreless from the 6:33 mark of the quarter until Long converted a three-point play with 0.8 left to pull the Pioneers within 15-9. The Pioneers shot 3-for-15 from the field in the first quarter and turned the ball over five times, while Anderson hit 7-for-14 and outrebounded Tusculum by a 12-9 margin.
 
The Trojans made the first two field goals of the second quarter to build a 19-9 lead, while the Pioneers missed its first six shots and went scoreless until Long hit a layup with 5:07 left in the period. After taking the 10-point lead, Anderson went scoreless for nearly six minutes until Mollenhauer hit two free throws for a 21-13 lead with 1:22 to play in the half, with neither team scoring again before halftime.
 
Anderson went the last 7:16 of the first half without a field goal, going just 2-for-14 from the field and turning the ball over six times in the quarter. For the half, the Trojans shot 32.1 percent (9-for-28) from the field and just 2-for-6 from the foul line, with Mollenhauer leading the way with six points and four rebounds.
 
The Pioneers were just 5-for-29 (17.2 percent) from the field in the half, hitting just two from three-point range in 12 attempts. Long paced the Pioneers with eight points and four rebounds in the first half, as Tusculum was outscored 12-6 in the paint and managed just four points off 10 Anderson turnovers.
 
Tusculum scored four straight to start the third quarter on a layup by Sutton and a steal and layup by Johnson, and opened the quarter 5-for-8 from the field. Two free throws by Long with 4:46 left in the period brought Tusculum within 32-26, and Arnwine drilled a three to cut the margin to 32-30 with 3:21 left in the quarter.
 
Long hit a layup to tie the game at 32-32 with 2:36 left in the quarter, but a free throw from Gadson was followed by a four-point play from Mollenhauer to stretch Anderson's lead to 37-32 in the final minute. Long closed out the quarter with a three-pointer in the final seconds to give her 18 points for the game and pull the Pioneers within 37-35 heading to the fourth. Long scored 10 points in the quarter as Tusculum shot 8-for-13 from the field and hit 3-for-7 from beyond the arc.
 
Dixon hit a three-pointer with 7:55 left to cut the Anderson lead to 41-40, and Tusculum took its first lead of the game with 7:02 left at 43-41 on a three-point play by Johnson. Another three-point play, from Sutton with 5:15 left, extended the Tusculum run to 9-0 and gave the Pioneers a 46-41 advantage, and Miller added yet another three-point play as the Pioneers stretched their lead to 49-41 with 4:33 to go.
 
Long extended the run to 14-0 with a steal and layup with 3:11 remaining, and Sutton pushed the Pioneers ahead 53-41 by hitting a pair of free throws with 2:13 left. Two more free throws from Long made it an 18-0 run with 2:03 remaining, and Johnson tacked on one more with 1:46 left.
 
Anderson went scoreless from the field for more than 6 1/2 minutes before ending the drought on a jumper by Jalyn Spurlin with 1:30 remaining, but Tusculum put the game away at the foul line in the final 80 seconds despite late three-pointers from Mollenhauer and Gadson.
 
Taylor Hair also reached double figures for Anderson with 10 points on 5-for-11 shooting. The Trojans finished the game shooting 37.7 percent (20-for-53) from the field and just 4-for-9 at the foul line, as Mollenhauer hit just 5-for-17 from the field overall and 3-for-10 in the second half.
 
Anderson finished the game with a 36-31 advantage in rebounds over Tusculum, but saw the Pioneers score 17 points off their 21 turnovers. Tusculum turned the ball over 14 times, leading to just eight points for Anderson, and the Pioneers had a 15-6 edge in fast-break points.
 
Long, Johnson, Mollenhauer and Baggett were joined by Carson-Newman's Kayla Marosites on the All-Tournament team.
 

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