Trojans suffer sixth loss in eight outings this season
By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on December 31, 2008 1:46 PM
MOUNT OLIVE --Finish the game.
Tusculum sealed the deal in the closing minutes Tuesday evening, while injury-riddled Mount Olive -- back at full strength -- couldn't convert the big plays.
The Pioneers drained nine consecutive free throws in the final 95 seconds and seized a 62-51, non-conference victory at Kornegay Arena. The Trojans (2-6 overall) suffered their third consecutive regular-season loss for the first time since 2004 when they advanced to the NCAA Division II East Regional at Pfeiifer University.
"Any time you can go on the road outside your league and get a win, that's huge," said Tusculum head coach Jim Boone. "To be able to come in here and play a really good basketball team that had all of their guys available ... not quite at full strength, was huge for us to get a win."
Tusculum evened the series against Mount Olive at one game apiece and improved to 12-5 all-time against Conference Carolinas opposition since 1999.
"My hat's off to Tusculum," said MOC head coach and alum Joey Higginbotham. "They executed and ran their stuff. We fought them pretty good for about 25 minutes. For that 15 (minutes), we had a lot of mental lapses that didn't allow us to finish the game."
The Pioneers (8-3) turned a four-point deficit into a lead they wouldn't relinquish early in the opening half. Robert Troutman's old-fashioned three-point play fueled a 10-0 spurt that put Tusculum in front 17-11 around the 10-minute mark.
Tanner Carnes' bucket underneath momentarily stopped the Pioneers' run. Jimmy Boone's 3-pointer, one of six on the night, gave Tusculum its biggest advantage -- 30-17 -- with 2:33 left before halftime.
Mount Olive answered with a 10-0 run that carried into the second half. Kendrick Easley's layup off Justin Melton's assist closed the gap to 32-29 with 16:08 to go. Boone then buried three consecutive outside shots, including two 3-pointers, to extend Tusculum's lead to 40-29.
"The coach's son," smiled Higginbotham. "We knew he was a great shooter and moves well without the basketball. They run that motion offense good, screened (well) and we guarded correctly one time, but next time we'd take the play off.
"He made us pay every time and every 3 he hit was big to kill our momentum."
Boone, who has fully recovered from a meniscus tear, led all scorers with 24 points in 31 minutes of action.
"The last three weeks, he's been more like himself and playing much better," said coach Boone. "He certainly hit some big shots. Our screeners did a good job of getting him open. When you put him, Kyle (Moore) and Ryan (Troutman) all out on the floor at the same time in a three-guard offense, there is no one you can help off of (defensively).
"Mount Olive was cognizant of Moore because he is a good shooter as well and is our leading scorer. I thought Kyle was very unselfish while looking to find other people (to score)."
The Trojans whittled the deficit to single digits in the final three minutes. Kason Cheeks short jumper and turnaround hook closed the gap to 51-47 with 2:26 left in regulation. Moore, who finished with 19 points, canned a driving layup to make it 53-47.
Mount Olive turned the ball over on its next possession and Tusculum pulled away with solid free throw shooting. The Pioneers hit 19 of 22 free throws, compared to knocking down just 18 field goals in the 40-minute affair.
"We shot ourselves in the foot again and I hate to say it like that," said Higginbotham. "Every time we fight back and do what we're supposed to do, then we do the exact opposite that got us where we were. We've got to keep grinding away."
Easley and Craig Hayes posted 13 and 10 points, respectively, for the Trojans. Melton, in his first start of the season, added nine points and four assists in 37 minutes.
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