By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – A second-half surge nearly turned into an improbable comeback bid for the Tennessee Tech men's basketball team Thursday evening, but Ohio Valley Conference and in-state rival Austin Peay held on to defeat the Golden Eagles in the Hooper Eblen Center, 75-62.
It was slow cooking early for both offenses, but the Governors (9-7, 3-0) found some momentum late in the opening stanza to take a 35-24 lead over the Golden Eagles (3-13, 0-3) into the locker room.
"They have a good team…they're really, really physical," Tech head coach John Pelphrey said. "With that being said, I felt that in the first half, we were kind of our own worst enemy. We had 14 turnovers and fouled 10 times. So we were not able to execute on offense or defense. You have to give Austin Peay credit for that, but we can play better basketball."
The purple and gold proved that point in the second half. After the Govs extended their advantage to 51-32 with 14:27 remaining on the clock, Tech went to work, beginning with a huge 3-pointer from sophomore Jr. Clay. Less than a minute later, the point guard dropped another one from nearly the exact same spot to answer a bucket by Austin Peay.
Tech forced a turnover and scored quickly, prompting the visitors to call a timeout to regroup. The break didn't faze the Golden Eagles, who scored twice more to cut the deficit to single digits with just over 10 minutes to play.
While the 12-2 run would eventually end, the young home squad continued to chip away at the Austin Peay lead. With just over five minutes left on the clock, Clay drove the court for a fast-break lay-up to trim the deficit to five.
It would represent the closest the Tech comeback bid would come however, as the offense struggled to keep pace with the OVC Preseason Player of the Year, Terry Taylor, down the stretch. The junior finished the contest with game-highs of 27 points and 12 rebounds.
"I thought our team really battled and competed," Pelphrey said. "There was no quit in them and there was fight all the way to the end. I do think some guys had some good performances, but for us to make a jump as a program, we have to continue to learn, develop our skills, develop physically, and more than anything else, we have to develop a sense of really wanting to become a competitor. What is that standard that I'm going to set for myself to compete at, day-in and day-out in practice and in the classroom? If we do that enough, it's going to translate to the court, no matter who we go against."
Clay, who was named the Special Olympics Player of the Game, led the Golden Eagles with his first 20-point showing of the season, finishing the contest 8-for-15 from the floor and 3-for-4 from deep. He added four assists and two steals. Darius Allen joined him in double figures, narrowly missing a double-double with 10 points and nine boards. He also connected on a trio of triples while racking up three steals.
Freshman Keishawn Davidson posted a team-high six assists while also tallying eight points and three steals. Senior guard Cade Crosland matched his fellow backcourt pal with eight points, including a pair of treys.
Tech will get right back after it Saturday evening, staying at home to host Murray State in a 7:30 p.m. CT tilt in the Eblen Center.
Photo by Thomas Corhern