By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – A stout offensive attack over the final 14 minutes of play helped spark the Tennessee Tech men's basketball team (6-11, 2-0) to a 76-67, comeback victory over in-state and Ohio Valley Conference rival Austin Peay (4-12, 0-2) Saturday evening.
"I'm really proud of our effort," head coach Steve Payne explained. "We've played a like that a lot this year. We've come back in the past and had chances to win games, but we never made the play we had to make to win it. The last two games, we've figured out how to make plays and how to execute when the game's on the line. If we can just continue to improve defensively, we're going to be in every game with just our defense and our toughness."
After 20 minutes of what seemed destined to be a defensive struggle all night, the Golden Eagles entered the break with a three-point advantage, leading the Governors, 28-25. Tech extended that lead to five early in the second half, but quickly found itself on the wrong end of a massive offensive surge.
Two minutes into the half, Austin Peay kicked things into another gear, cruising out to a 12-point lead on the heels of an 18-1 run right up to the 14:37 mark. Payne wisely called for a 30-second timeout, using the chance to calm his team and get the confidence of the offense back to level.
It didn't take long for the action to pay off, as senior guard Kajon Mack sparked a 16-4 run by the Golden Eagles to even things at 49 with just under 10 minutes to play. The Tulane transfer created havoc on both ends of the court for the Govs, leading Tech to a four-minute span that saw four steals and two of the team's sharp shooters begin to heat up.
Senior Hakeem Rogers snapped his scoreless drought in the contest, making a nifty jumper in the lane to cut Austin Peay's lead to two. After two free throws by Josh Robinson, he followed that up with a 3-point play to trim it to just a single point.
Two more Robinson freebies made it a three-point lead once again for the Govs, but junior Aleksa Jugovic picked the perfect time to catch fire from beyond the arc, hitting his first of back-to-back triples to notch things up. His second 3-ball gave Tech the lead once more and put the Eblen Center into a frenzy.
Tech inched out to a seven-point lead with five and a half to play, but Peay put together one more stand, tying things at 63 with just over three minutes left in action. Rogers hammered home a huge 3-pointer to give the Golden Eagles the lead for good, one punctuated by a timely trey from sophomore guard Stephaun Adams.
His triple made it a four-point game with just a little over two to play, forcing Austin Peay into some uncomfortable shots and to begin fouling.
The Golden Eagles knocked down seven free throws down the stretch to close things out, gathering their second consecutive season with a 2-0 start to league play, the first time a Tech team accomplished the feat since the 2004-05 and 2005-06 squads.
"It wasn't anything special," Payne said. "The guys made the play that we needed to make. They're learning. Last year, it was obvious as to which guys were taking the shots. This year, we're figuring that out. For us, the go-to guy is the open man and we did a great job in the last 10-12 minutes of finding the open man. That physical and mental toughness is going to carry us a long way."
Jugovic led the Tech scoring effort, sinking 5-of-9 attempts from beyond the arc on his way to 17 points. Not far behind, Mack, who initially sparked the Golden Eagle comeback, finished with 16 points on a highly efficient 7-for-9 showing from the floor. He also gathered four rebounds, dished out three assists and made three steals.
Both Rogers and Adams joined their teammates with double-digit scoring efforts, posting totals of 13 and 10, respectively. Adams dished out a team-high five assists while making his second straight start.
The Golden Eagles will return to action Saturday evening with a 7:30 p.m. CT match-up with OVC foe Murray State following the Tech women's contest at 5:30 p.m.
Photo by Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information