HARROGATE, TN -- The No. 10 Railsplitters overcame poor shooting and foul trouble in their front court to grind out a gritty 64-58 victory over the Tusculum College Pioneers in South Atlantic Conference men's basketball action on Wednesday evening. Lincoln Memorial University (15-2, 8-1 SAC) extends their winning-streak to five and remains locked in a tie with Wingate University for the top spot in the SAC standings with the win, while the Pioneers fall to 4-13 overall and 2-7 in league play.
Uncharacteristically, the Railsplitters struggled to find their rhythm offensively in the first half, tallying only nine made baskets over that span to go into the break trailing 29-25. They would pick up the pace in the second stanza and outscore Tusculum 39-29 in the that frame, limiting the Pioneers to a dismal 28.6% effort (6-21) en route to the win in Tex Turner Arena. As a whole, the Railsplitters finished 22-56 from the field for a 39.3% clip, 21 percentage points below their season average. However, they put together a strong defensive effort by holding TC to 36% shooting for the contest.
The inside trio of Vincent Bailey, Jake Troyli and Dustin Craig was plagued by foul trouble throughout the night, as Bailey fouled out late in the contest while Troyli and Craig finished with four fouls apiece. However, the three combined for 24 rebounds to lead the Railsplitters to a dominating 47-32 advantage on the glass. Bailey headlined that group offensively with 13 points and six boards. Troyli was limited to only seven points, but the senior forward amassed a game-high 11 rebounds to make his impact felt. Craig, a Knoxville, Tennessee native, only scored a single point but reigned in seven boards in 25 minutes of action. That group was still able to spark the Railsplitters with a 26-18 advantage in points in the paint.
Despite struggling from the field to the tone of a 4-13 effort, senior marksman Wally Jones matched a game-high effort with 14 points to lead the Railsplitter attack. He also led the LMU back court with six rebounds in 35 minutes on the floor. Tim Pierce made his presence felt with nine points.
The Pioneers boasted a balanced offensive attack with eight of their nine players tallying at least two points in the contest. Addison Flynn led Tusculum by matching Wally Jones' game-high output with 14 points, while Neal Spinks headlined a second unit for the Pioneers that out-dueled the Railsplitters, 25-9, with 11 points. Darius Carter added nine points off the bench and JD Miller scored eight. Tusculum was also able to win the turnover battle, 13-8, and used the Railsplitters' 13 miscues to tally 10 points.
The two teams started slowly in the first half, combining for only 10 points over the first three and a half minutes to meet in a 5-5 tie at the 16:29 mark of the period. After a Neal Spinks' free throw, LMU received jumpers from Vincent Bailey and Chance Jones to assume a 9-6 advantage with 13:53 left on the clock. However, the next four minutes of the contest saw the Pioneers swing a 10-0 run, capped with a pair of jumpers by JD Miller, to take their largest lead of the game at 16-9 to force a timeout from the LMU bench.
Coming out of the timeout, the Railsplitters cut the deficit back to three on two different occasions, but they were unable to regain the lead. Trailing 19-16 at the 5:33 mark, the Railsplitters surrendered jumpers to Addison Flynn and Darius Carter in back-to-back possessions to see the Pioneers re-establish a seven-point advantage with 4:49 to play. Over the ensuing 3:12 of action, LMU pushed to within one on the wings of an 8-1 run, however, Tusculum answered with five-straight points to hold a 29-23 lead with 33 seconds left. The Railsplitters scored the final bucket of the half, as Lorenza Ross netted a jumper with five seconds left to send LMU into the break trailing 29-25.
The Railsplitters quickly came out of the break and tied the game with jumpers by Tim Pierce and Vincent Bailey. Two Keith Jumper free throws briefly put Tusculum back out on top before Wally Jones knotted the game again with a jumper at the 18:05 mark. Following that phase, the Pioneers scored four of the next six points to take a 35-33 lead before the Railsplitters countered with a three-point bucket by Wally Jones to assume a 36-35 advantage.
The 'Splitters would never relinquish the lead from that juncture, as they used a 7-0 run from the 14:15 mark to the 11:10 mark of regulation to chip out to a 45-37 lead. The Pioneers were able to cut it back to a one-possession game at 47-45 with 8:24 showing on the clock, however, the Railsplitters implemented another 7-0 run, capped with a jumper by Lorenza Ross, to establish a 54-45 lead and effectively assume command of the game with only 6:26 to play.
From that juncture, the Pioneers were never able to cut any closer than five points down, as the Railsplitters went five for six from the free throw line over the final 32 seconds to claim a 64-58 victory in South Atlantic Conference play.
The Railsplitters are set to hit the road this weekend for a South Atlantic Conference duel with the Catawba College Indians where they look to extend their five-game winning streak. That game is set to tip at 4 pm in Salisbury, North Carolina on Saturday, February 2nd.