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HARROGATE—The Tusculum University men’s basketball team used a 27-2 run to open the second half and Trenton Gibson’s first career triple-double as the Pioneers defeated USC Aiken 93-63 Friday night at Tex Turner Arena in the opening game of the South Atlantic Conference / Peach Belt Conference Challenge.

Gibson, a sophomore guard from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, posted 17 points, 11 rebounds and a career-high 12 assists as the Pioneers avenged last year’s season-opening loss to the Pacers (0-3). Eleven of his helpers came in the second half as Tusculum outscored USCA 57-27 in the final stanza.

With the score tied 36-36 at halftime, Tusculum scored the first 16 points coming out of the locker room as USC Aiken went scoreless for the opening 5:18 of the period. TU followed the 16-0 run with a 13-0 spurt to take a 65-38 advantage with 9:23 remaining in the game.

Tusculum senior Tariq Jenkins led all players with 22 points, which was two markers shy of a career-best. Senior guard Dillon Smith tallied a career-high 21 points as he went 5-of-10 from three-point territory and posted a team-best three steals.

Forward Caleb Hodnett tallied 11 points, seven boards and three assists while junior forward Brandon Mitchell accounted for eight points, 11 rebounds and blocked a career-best six blocked shots, which are tied for the fourth-most in a TU single-game.

USCA’s Xzavier Barmore led the Pacers with 15 points and five assists, while Dhieu Deing finished with 14 points off the bench and Faison Brock added 11 points and a team-high seven rebounds in the loss.

The Pioneers out-rebounded the Pacers 53-34 including 27-13 in the second half alone. TU also held a 24-12 edge on the offensive glass for the game.

Tusculum shot 46.8 percent from the floor, including 59.5 percent in the second half (22-of-37), while USCA finished the game shooting 33.9 percent including 8-of-30 in the second half (26.7%).

The first half was back-and-forth contest as the lead changed hands 10 times. TU held an early 7-4 lead following a triple by Gibson, but the Pacers responded with a 16-4 run to take its largest lead of the game at 20-13 at the 10:29 mark of the half.

Smith answered with back-to-back threes and Gibson canned a jumper as the Pioneers scored eight straight to retake the lead at 21-20 with 8:20 to go in the period.

Neither squad would hold a lead greater than four points for the rest of the half as the team headed into the locker room locked at 36-36.

The Pioneers shot 11-of-28 from beyond the arc (39.3%) as TU posted 19 assists on its 37 made field goals. TU forced 17 turnovers resulting in 24 points for the Pioneers.

Gibson’s triple-double is the first by a Pioneer since Mason Fox posted 10 points, 10 rebounds and 13 assists against Mars Hill on Jan. 28, 2015 in Greeneville.

Tusculum will be back in action on Saturday at 2 p.m. to close out their stay in Harrogate as they face Clayton State University.

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