Luke Bolanos, Director of Athletic Communications
HARROGATE, Tenn. – Behind another fine offensive performance, the Lincoln Memorial University men’s basketball team claimed its second top-25 win of 2020-21 and picked up its 38th consecutive triumph by defeating 24th-ranked Tusculum University 103-82 Saturday afternoon in Harrogate. The second-ranked Railsplitters (6-0, 4-0 SAC) reached the century mark and shot 60 percent from the field for the third-straight game, cruising to their 26th consecutive South Atlantic Conference victory in a battle of league unbeatens.
Outrebounding the top rebounding team in the conference 38-29, LMU was relentless for 40 minutes inside B. Frank “Tex” Turner Arena. Forcing the Pioneers (3-1, 3-1 SAC) to turn the ball over 21 times, the Railsplitters scored 31 points off of Tusculum’s miscues and earned 36 free-throw attempts.
With 48 points in the paint, LMU shot 60.3 percent (35-of-58) for the afternoon and scored 59 second-half points. Fueled by a career-high scoring outing from redshirt sophomore guard/forward Xavier Bledson (16), the Railsplitters got a cool 28 points from reigning SAC and Tennessee Sports Writers Association (TSWA) Player of the Week Devin Whitfield.
Behind 64.3 percent (18-of-28) second-half shooting, including going 6-for-12 from three-point distance, LMU outpaced the Pioneers in a high-scoring final 20 minutes of play. The Railsplitters were able to build upon their 14-point halftime lead despite the visitors scoring 52 second-half points on 50 percent (19-of-38) shooting, which included Tusculum going 7-for-16 (43.8 percent) from long range.
An old-fashioned three-point play by redshirt junior guard Cameron Henry capped a 17-4 LMU run and gave the Blue and Gray an 11-point advantage at 19-8 after a sluggish start to the day. Moments later, a Bledson driving layup gave the Railsplitters their largest lead of the first half at 29-14 with seven minutes to go in the opening period. After the Pioneers cut into LMU’s lead with a 14-8 run over the next five minutes of action, the Railsplitters closed the half by outscoring Tusculum 7-2 in the closing two minutes. A steal and a layup by Bledson in the final seconds of the half resulted in LMU taking all the momentum and a 44-30 lead into the break.
The Railsplitters shot 56.7 percent (17-of-30) in the opening 20 minutes of play and went just 3-for-8 (37.5 percent) from downtown but limited the Pioneers to 40.6 percent (13-of-32) first-half shooting as Tusculum went 2-for-9 (22.2 percent) from outside.
Redshirt senior guard Whitfield completed a traditional three-point play to cap a 14-3 LMU run over a four-and-a-half minute stretch, increasing the Railsplitters advantage to 23 at 67-44 with 11:41 remaining. LMU would continue its rapid pace over the next three minutes of action as a three ball by sophomore guard Jeremiah Keene gave the Railsplitters their largest lead of the game at 80-51 with just under nine minutes to go.
The Pioneers outscored LMU 21-11 over the next five-and-a-half minutes, trimming down the deficit to 19 at 91-72 with just over three-and-a-half minutes left. However, the Railsplitters hit five of their six free throws down the stretch and got baskets from Whitfield, junior guard Julius Brown and redshirt freshman guard Me’Kell Burries to close out their second win of the season over a nationally-ranked opponent.
LMU made 17 second-half free throws and collected 10 of its 17 assists in the last 20 minutes.
Whitfield scored 20 of his 28 points in the second half and grabbed a season-high seven rebounds, while Bledson paired his 16 points with a game-best eight assists and five boards. Brown finished with 17 points on 6-for-10 shooting and also had four rebounds, three assists and two steals. Henry earned a game-high four steals to go along with 15 points as Keene scored 12. Junior forward Jordan Guest contributed seven points and claimed seven boards and senior guard Alex Dahling connected on two of his three three-point attempts.
Junior starting guard Trenton Gibson led Tusculum with 21 points, six rebounds and five assists. The Pioneers also got double-figure scoring from starters Keaston Brown (14) and Joshua Scott (13).
The Railsplitters remain in Harrogate for a midweek meeting with Anderson Wednesday night. Tip-off from inside Tex Turner Arena is slated for 8 p.m. with the Lady Railsplitters also taking on the Trojans in a 5:30 p.m. tip. Next Saturday, Jan. 9, LMU travels to Lenoir-Rhyne for a 4:30 p.m. affair in Hickory, North Carolina.