Fagan trey sparks Tusculum rally, Pioneers win opener 85-81 over Lees-McRae

Cory Fagan scored a game-high 20 points against Lincoln Memorial
Cory Fagan scored a game-high 20 points against Lincoln Memorial

GREENEVILLE, Tenn. --- Senior Cory Fagan buried a three-pointer with 5.1 seconds remaining as the Tusculum College men's basketball team rallied to an 85-81 season-opening win over Lees-McRae College in day one action of the South Atlantic Conference / Conference Carolinas Challenge at Pioneer Arena.

Tusculum (1-0) trailed by 11 points on eight separate occasions including the final time at 76-65 with 4:35 remaining in the second half as LMC's Lepreece Lynch converted a three-point play.  But on the ensuing TC possession, Lynch picked up his fourth foul and in frustration was whistled for a technical for his fifth personal foul.

Sophomore Zach Hartle made both of his free throws and TC newcomer Ronnie Baylark made one of two free throws to trim the deficit back to eight points.

Lees-McRae pushed the lead back out to double digits (78-68) on Chad Hicks layup with 4:01 left.  TC rookie Brandon Dansoh got an offensive rebound and put-back and sophomore Connor Mitchell converted a tip-in as TC whittled the LMC lead to 78-72 with 2:42 to go.

The Bobcats took an 80-72 lead following a Hicks' jumper with 2:19 remaining, but Fagan connected on a trey with two minutes left to trim the deficit to five (80-75).  After a missed shot by LMC, senior Zach Davis was fouled and he went to the free throw line and made one of two shot to narrow the deficit to four (80-76) with 1:35 remaining.

After a TC timeout, LMC's Jonathan Honore missed the front end of the bonus as Baylark was fouled and connected on his two free throws as the Pioneers trailed 80-78 with 1:08 left.

Honore was fouled again as he missed his first free throw, but made the second to increase the LMC lead to 81-78.  TC's Keaton Dotson made a layup with 29 seconds left as the Pioneers were within one at 81-80.

Lees-McRae got the ball on its end of the court in the deep left corner by the baseline.  TC fouled Rishad Felton, who missed his two free throw attempts with 13.9 seconds left as the Pioneers had a chance to take the lead for the first time since early in the first half.

Patterson dribbled across mid-court and found Fagan open on the left wing as he buried the 22-footer for the eventual game-winner with 5.1 seconds left.

After a LMC timeout the Bobcats got the ball across midcourt, but Cedriontis Wilson stepped out of bounds on the sideline and turning the ball over to the Pioneers with 3.7 seconds to go.

Patterson was fouled with one second left as he made both of his free throws to seal the victory.

Baylark led all scorers with 15 points to go along with his five rebounds and six assists.  Fagan and Davis added 14 points apiece while Patterson tallied 11 markers, six assists and three steals.

Tusculum jumped out to an early 12-6 lead at the 16:26 mark of the first half following a Baylark three-pointer.  LMC responded with 14 unanswered points to take a 20-12 advantage with 11:51 left in the first half. 

The Pioneers regained the lead with a 7-0 run including buckets by Dotson and Patterson and a trey from rookie Caleb Hodnett to go up 29-28 with 5:21 to go.

But the Bobcats closed out the half with a 15-2 run in the last five minutes to take a 43-32 lead into the locker room.

Lees-McRae edged the Pioneers in both shooting and rebounding.  The Bobcats shot 44.8 percent from the floor including 9-of-25 from three-point land (36%).  TC fired 44.1 percent, including 15-of-29 in the second half for 52 percent.  TC also connected on nine treys on its 26 attempts for a 35 percent clip.  LMC also had a 43-42 advantage on the boards while forcing TC into 19 turnovers thanks to a dozen steals.

Both teams shot dismal from the free throw line as the Pioneers went 24-of-42 for 57.1 percent, while the Bobcats went 12-of-23 at the line for 52.2 percent.

Lees-McRae will face second-ranked Lincoln Memorial University at 3 p.m. on Saturday, while Tusculum will close out the Challenge with a 5 p.m. contest against King University at Pioneer Arena.