By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – A terrific offensive display was too much for the Tennessee Tech men's basketball team Saturday afternoon, as the Golden Eagles dropped a fast-paced show in the Eblen Center to the visiting Catamounts of Western Carolina, 89-76.
On the night, WCU shot 60.4 percent from the floor and 51.9 percent from 3-point range to outgun the Golden Eagles. Tech finished the night 42.9 percent from the field and 26.7 percent from downtown, relying on the defense's 22 forced turnovers to outscore the visitors in the second half, 44-43.
"First of all, I though Western Carolina was a really good basketball team coming in" Tech head coach John Pelphrey said in his opening statement. "They're an even better basketball team after having just played against them. They have a very dynamic guy at the point guard spot, who you can't guard by yourself. They have a very dynamic guy in the low post, who you can't guard by yourself. So anytime you commit two people to those guys, they've got snipers everywhere. Tonight, it was really impressive, the shooting, the passing, the spacing from an offensive perspective.
"They were the better basketball team, on the road, in both halves. I think we were pretty lucky to force them into 22 turnovers. That was kind of the only way we could stop them. They're very well-coached, a really good basketball team. I have a lot of respect for them."
The squad from Cookeville dished out 18 assists in the contest, making just 11 turnovers of its own. The Tech bunch also drew a healthy amount of fouls, finishing 14-of-19 from the charity stripe. The Catamounts dominated the glass, to the tune of 38-23, providing more opportunities for its red-hot offense to operate.
"I thought there were a lot of really positive things for our guys," Pelphrey expressed. "I thought we worked really hard and played better against Lipscomb, but didn't do well under the eight-minute mark. We came back after for four-straight days and got after it really hard and aggressive and tried to learn some of our lessons. I thought it showed up again tonight. I think we're making progress. There was progress in the Lipscomb game and there was progress tonight.
"We're getting the ball to the right spots. We're being more aggressive driving the ball and forcing the fouling situations. The staff and I are just very encouraged with these guys. We have so much room for growth and we just have to stay with it. We have to stick with our code, what we do and how we operate on a daily business. Just have to keep our minds on the right things. We have to give great effort. Our attitude and body language tonight, I thought, was good."
The offense was relatively distributed throughout the night for the Golden Eagles, with six players scoring at least seven points. Sophomore guard Jr. Clay continued his hot run over the past five games, scoring a game-high 17 points with five assists, five steals and three rebounds.
Junior forward Larry Kuimi, who was named the Special Olympics Player of the Game, enjoyed a strong night on offense, sinking 6-of-8 attempts from the floor for a season-high 14 points. He also had a block and three rebounds. Scoring 11 points with a pair of steals was freshman guard Keishawn Davidson, who rounded out the double-digit scorers for Tech.
Freshman forward Tujautae Williams contributed nine points with a 5-for-6 showing from the free throw line and four assists. Close behind, senior guard Darius Allen posted eight points and sophomore guard Hunter Vick scored seven.
The Golden Eagles return to action one more time before the New Year, closing out non-conference play with a road trip to Oxford, Miss. and a meeting with Ole Miss on Sunday, Dec. 29. Tip is set for 3:00 p.m. CT.
Photo by Thomas Corhern