MARS HILL, N.C. – The Mars Hill men's basketball team returned to South Atlantic Conference action with an 85-71 loss to the Pioneers of Tusculum in Stanford Arena Wednesday night. Luke Van-Rijn paced the Lions offense with 14 points.
The Lions opened the contest on a 6-2 run before Tusculum answered back with seven straight to take a 9-8 lead. Following a timeout, Mars Hill roared back going on an 18-6 run with Nassyr Daniel accounting for seven of the points. Mars Hill was up by 11 points with just under 10 minutes left in the half before the Pioneers began the momentum shift.
Coming off of a timeout, Tusculum's offense caught fire. A 3-pointer made by Elon Smallwood erased the deficit with 3:02 left in the half to give the Pioneer's a 31-30 lead. Donovan Donaldson had six points in the final two minutes and helped lead the team to a 44-36 advantage heading into the second half. Mars Hill was outscored 29-10 in the final 10 minutes of first frame.
Donaldson led all players with 10 points in the first half, shooting 50 percent from the field. Dustin Day added nine points and Hunter Parrish and Caleb Hodnett each hauled in three rebounds.
Vernon Jackson led Mars Hill with nine points in the half, followed by Justen Hartfield. Hartfield pulled down six rebounds to lead all players. Bennett Wilson had four assists in the opening 20 minutes.
The momentum carried over for the Pioneers as they opened the second stanza, scoring the first 13 points in the opening five minutes. Brandon Mitchell scored four points to lead the run. The offense kept coming for Tusculum and with under 10 minutes remaining in the contest, led by as many as 25 points. Late surges from the Lions were all for naught as they were only able to pull within 14 points as they fell for the fifth straight game.
Donaldson led all players with 16 points, added three assists and three rebounds. Smallwood, Day and Mitchell all ended the contest with double-digits in scoring with 14, 13 and 12 points, respectively. Smallwood added a game-high five assists.
Jackson had 11 points and four rebounds in the losing effort for the Lions. Daniel pulled down six rebounds to go along with his nine points and Justen Hartfield ended the contest with seven points and seven rebounds.
Mars Hill drops to 2-11 (0-6 SAC) as Tusculum improves to 4-9 (2-4 SAC).
The Lions next square off against undefeated, No. 2 ranked Queens on Saturday, January 6 at 4 p.m.