MARS HILL, N.C. – The Mars Hill men's basketball team was dealt a crushing 101-92 loss at the hands of Tusculum on Wednesday evening inside Chambers Gymnasium. With the loss, the Lions dropped to 3-12 overall and 1-8 in the conference, while the Pioneers improved to 7-7 on the season and 4-5 in the SAC.
Valentin Bauer led the Lions offensively with 17 points, while Charles Moore and Vernon Jackson chipped in 15 each. Makyle Wilkerson and Justin Hartfield reached the double-digit plateau as well with 10 each. The Lions shot 48.1% (37-77) from the floor and outscored the Pioneers 54-34 in the paint.
The opening two-plus minutes of the contest was a pillar-to-post affair as both teams came out on fire from the floor. Mars Hill controlled a 15-9 lead at the 15:08 mark following a three-ball by Charles Moore. MHU made an asserted effort on the defensive end early in the contest, contesting every attempt by the Pioneers.
A strong inside move and layup by Dotson Griffin at the 8:12 mark gave the Lions their biggest lead of the contest, 31-23, heading to the under-eight media timeout. A 20-11 outburst from TC, covering seven minutes of game time, gave the Pioneers their first lead since the 17:59 mark, 43-42, heading into the locker room.
What was a fast-paced, high-scoring first half turned opposite to initiate the second. Tusculum, after both teams struggled to maintain offense, continued the momentum gained at the end of the first half and built its lead to 55-46 at the 15:10 point. Foul trouble would catch up to the Lions as Tusculum entered the free throw bonus with 13:13 to go in the contest.
With the score at 68-60 in favor of TC, Mars Hill knocked down five in a row and nine of 11 to trail 70-69 with just over six minutes to play in regulation. The Lions continued to push forward and eventually took their first lead, 76-74, since one minute left in the first half. Jackson contributed an unconventional three-point play and power-move layup during the surge to the front.
The Pioneers showed resilience and reclaimed the lead 79-78 following a pair of free throws, but Moore continued his impressive play as he slashed his way to the basket and finished strong to once again put the Blue and Gold ahead.
Valentin Bauer knocked down a pull-up jumper with five ticks remaining to give the Lions what looked like might be an 82-80 victory, but on the ensuing Pioneer possession Tusculum's Zach Davis was fouled shooting a three pointer at the buzzer. Davis calmly knocked down the first two shots from the charity stripe, but his third and game-winning attempt came up just short, sending the game into overtime.
Tusculum scored the first seven points of the extra session to take an 89-82 advantage with 3:44 left. The Lions narrowed the gap to four points on two separate occasions but could get no closer, dropping the hard-fought contest, 101-92.
The Lions will continue their schedule on Saturday, January 14, traveling to Hickory, N.C. to face the Bears of Lenoir-Rhyne. Tipoff is scheduled for 4 p.m.