HICKORY, N.C. — Jalen Variste paced five players in double digit scoring with his 19-point effort as the Lenoir-Rhyne University men’s basketball team led wire-to-wire in an 84-71 South Atlantic Conference win over visiting Tusculum College Wednesday night at Shuford Memorial Gymnasium.
The Bears (4-5, 3-2 SAC) scored the first four points of the contest and never looked back while handing the Pioneers (4-4, 2-2 SAC) their third consecutive loss.
Tusculum was led in scoring by Chase Mounce, who posted a season-high 17 points, shooting 8-of-14 from the floor, while hauling in six rebounds. Kendall Patterson contributed 16 points, five boards, four assists and two steals, while Ronnie Baylark added 13 markers, including 11 points in the second half.
Joining Variste in double figures for the Bears were Reed Lucas (17), Jarvis Calhoun (15), JacQues Chambers (12) and Darrion Evans (10).
Lenoir-Rhyne finished the night shooting 48.3 percent from the floor, including a sizzling 13-of-22 (59.1%) in the second half. Tusculum fired a respectable 44.6 percent, but went 4-of-20 (20%) from three-point territory. The Pioneers entered the game averaging 11.7 treys per contest, which is the fifth-best average in the country. TC was also held under its 40 percent accuracy rate from beyond the arc
L-R raced out to a 21-10 lead at the midway point of the first half. Evans extended the lead to 26-12 with 8:17 left in the period following his bucket. Tusculum answered with a 7-0 run, including a three-pointer by Keaton Dotson and baskets from Mounce and Baylark to trim the deficit to 26-19 at the 6:36 mark in the half.
The Bears pushed the lead back out to 10 following a Chambers’ dunk and an Alex Kelly three-pointer as L-R led 31-21 with 5:09 remaining before the intermission. TC cut into the lead and trailed by six on two occasions down the stretch in the first half, but a Variste trey just before the halftime buzzer lifted the Bears to a 39-29 advantage after 20 minutes of play.
In the second half, the L-R lead varied between eight and 12 points through the first seven minutes of the period. Leading 53-43 with 12:48 to go, the Bears used a 14-5 run to take its largest lead of the game at 67-48 with 7:01 to go.
The Pioneers answered with an 18-6 spurt over a five-minute span to trim the deficit to 73-66 with 2:03 on the clock thanks to a pair of three-point plays from Patterson as well as a three-point play from Baylark.
But the Bears would not miss a shot from both field and the free throw line for the remainder of the game. Calhoun’s third trey of the night proved to be the nail in the TC coffin to extend the L-R lead to double digits for good. Chambers followed with a layup and the Bears went 6-of-6 from the foul line in the final minute to seal the victory.
Lenoir-Rhyne went 19-of-26 from the free throw line for 73.1 percent, including 16-of-22 in the second half alone. L-R edged Tusculum 36-34 in rebounding, while the Bears’ bench out-scored the Pioneers 26-10.
Tusculum held a 38-30 scoring edge in the paint as L-R forced 10 turnovers, while committing only eight miscues on the evening.
With his 17-point effort, Mounce continues his assault up the program’s scoring ladder, moving into sole possession of 18th place with his 1,091 career points.
The Pioneers return home to host Coker College on Saturday for a 4 p.m. tip-off in Greeneville.