BELMONT, N.C. — Drexler Clark scored 23 of his game-high 29 points in the second half as Belmont Abbey College defeated Tusculum College 94-84 in non-conference men’s basketball action Wednesday night at the Wheeler Center.
Five players finished in double figures for the Crusaders (2-1), who shot 55.2 percent (16-for-29) from the field in the second half and hit seven of their 13 three-pointers. Deion Lane and Gunnar Hardarson added 15 points apiece for Belmont Abbey, which led by as many as 20 points in the latter stages of the second half before Tusculum pulled as close as six.
Kendall Patterson led the Pioneers (2-1) with a career-high 27 points, Ronnie Baylark added 18 points and six assists and Chase Mounce had 17 points and seven rebounds for the Pioneers, who also had a solid shooting second half at 54.8 percent (17-for-31). The difference came at the foul line, where Belmont Abbey shot 26-for-32 (81.3 percent) for the game compared to 10-for-14 (71.4 percent) for Tusculum.
Clark shot 10-for-13 from the field, including 6-for-8 from three-point range, and had five rebounds and four assists for the Crusaders in the victory. Hardarson was also deadly from long-range for the Crusaders, nailing five of his seven attempts from beyond the arc to account for all of his 15 points in just 16 minutes of playing time.
A pair of three-pointers by Clark helped the Crusaders jump to an 8-2 lead after 3 1/2 minutes, but the Pioneers answered with an 11-2 run that saw the Pioneers take the lead on a layup by Baylark with 14:47 remaining in the first half. Belmont Abbey then went on a 9-0 run that included two three-pointers from Hardarson and one from Troy Henderson to regain a 19-13 lead with 10:20 to play in the half.
The Crusader lead grew to 11 points at 28-17 on a layup by Lane with 5:28 left in the half, but the Pioneers got back-to-back threes from Baylark and Patterson to quickly pull back within 28-23. The margin was trimmed to 34-32 on a three-pointer by Keaton Dotson with 1:40 left in the half, and another three from Patterson brought the Pioneers within a point at 36-35 with 1:04 remaining.
Belmont Abbey led 38-35 at halftime as Aidan Richard led all players with nine points off the bench for Belmont Abbey. Lane had eight points and Clark added six in the first half for the Crusaders, who shot 38.7 percent (12-for-31) from the field but made all nine of their foul shots in the half.
Patterson paced the Pioneers with 12 points and five rebounds in the first half, while Baylark had nine points, three rebounds and three assists. Tusculum shot 39.5 percent (15-for-38) from the field in the half and had a 24-18 rebound advantage, allowing Belmont Abbey just one offensive board in the half.
The Crusader lead was still three points at 40-37 with 18:30 left in the second half, but Belmont Abbey went on an 19-5 run over the next 4 1/2 minutes to take a 59-42 lead with 13:57 to play. Clark had 15 of the Crusaders’ 19 points during the spurt, including three three-pointers and back-to-back fast-break layups off missed Pioneer three-pointers.
Tusculum whittled the deficit down to 11 on three occasions, but a pair of three-pointers from Hardarson helped Belmont Abbey to its largest lead of the night at 81-61 with 5:49 remaining.
Just as they did in season-opening wins over Lees-McRae and King, Tusculum mounted a second-half surge to get back in the game. The Pioneers ran off 14 unanswered points to pull within 81-75 on a three-pointer by Baylark with 1:50 left, and two free throws by Zach Davis again cut the margin to six at 83-77 with 1:09 on the clock. However, the Crusaders put the game away by going 11-of-12 from the free-throw line in the final minute after Tusculum pulled within six twice more.
Patterson’s 27 points broke his previous career high of 22 points set at Anderson on Feb. 3 of last season, while his seven rebounds were one short of his career best set last Feb. 27 against Queens.
Mounce shot 8-for-10 from the field and scored 15 of his 17 points in the second half for the Pioneers, while Baylark has scored at least 15 points in each of the Pioneers’ first three games. Davis finished with a team-high eight rebounds for the Pioneers, who had a 41-35 edge on the boards over the Crusaders in the game.
Tusculum dominated Belmont Abbey in points in the paint, outscoring the Crusaders by a 40-22 margin. The Pioneers also had 10 second-chance points to six by the Crusaders, while the Belmont Abbey bench outscored Tusculum’s reserves by a 29-11 margin.
Also reaching double figures for the Crusaders were Jacob Wilson, who went 11-for-12 from the foul line and had 13 points and six rebounds, along with Richard who tallied 10 points in 30 minutes off the bench.
Tusculum will open its South Atlantic Conference schedule on Saturday at 4 p.m. against Wingate at Pioneer Arena.