By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
GREENSBORO, N.C. – A grueling, three-day test in Fleming Gymnasium on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro came to close Sunday afternoon, as the Tennessee Tech men's basketball team fell to Montana State, 52-39.
On a weekend where the Golden Eagle offense struggled to find a rhythm and some consistency, the defense stepped up in a huge way in the contest, holding the Bobcats to just 52 points, 40 percent shooting from the field and 25 percent from 3-point range. Montana State entered the contest shooting well over 40 percent from beyond the arc.
"I felt like both teams had a level of fatigue to them, but I felt that today, unlike last night versus Appalachian State, we played with some mental and physical toughness," Tech head coach John Pelphrey expressed. "We had to fight through fatigue and had to go up against a very physical basketball team. I thought we really competed well in the game. We showed some resiliency, getting down and being able to fight and claw to stay in the game."
Tech also forced 15 turnovers in the contest, using the extra possessions to try and counter-balance its own issues with turning over the ball /on the day. The purple and gold also scrapped and clearly won the battle on the glass, out-rebounding the Bobcats 39-32, including a whopping 15-5 on the offensive side of the ball.
"I was pleased with our effort today," Pelphrey explained. "I think you could see some signs of some culture being established, some togetherness, some really good body language, sticking to our code and learning. We obviously have a lot to learn from a basketball perspective. We've got to take care of the basketball. Our young guards need to find a way to do that. We still turn it over too much. We need to be ready to take shots when we're open, but I thought we made some progress, in terms of being physical defensively and staying in front of our man. It seems we are getting better at that. When you look at the Wright State project when we gave up 20 offensive rebounds, today we only gave up five, so that's another positive."
The defense truly kept the young crop of Golden Eagles in the contest early, as Montana State opened the game on an 11-0 run over the first six minutes. The lead expanded to as much as 17-4 early, in favor of the Bobcats, but almost like a light switch flipping on, the Tech defense locked it down. Over the final 11:25 of the first stanza, the purple and gold held their opponents to just five points, allowing the offense to bring the halftime deficit to a very manageable five points.
That same intensity and resolve brought Tech to as close as three points early in the second half, and kept the difference on the scoreboard under 10 points for the majority of the remainder of the contest. Some free throws and a couple of big triples from Montana State allowed the final score to reach 52-39, but overshadowed an otherwise inspiring display from the purple and gold.
"Like I said before, I think you can see some signs of culture with guys having really good attitudes, taking care of their teammates and staying focused on Tennessee Tech," Pelphrey said. "I like the fight and resiliency to keep going. Three games in three days is really hard. Overall, just the way they conduct themselves in a classy manner. One of the ladies at the hotel came up and mentioned that to me today, and as a coach, a father and a leader, it's good to hear that your guys are handling themselves with respect towards others and being good representatives of our school."
The Golden Eagles will get a few days of rest before hitting the road once more to wrap up its four-game stretch away from Cookeville. Tech will get back to action on Thursday, Nov. 21 at Winthrop in a 6:30 p.m. CT match-up.
Photo by Thomas Corhern