By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
CHARLESTON, Ill. – The Tennessee Tech men's basketball couldn't overcome turnover woes and multiple stretches of offensive inconsistency Saturday afternoon, falling at Eastern Illinois in Ohio Valley Conference play, 84-59.
A tight contest early, the Panthers (9-9, 2-4) began to pull away towards the end of the first half as the Golden Eagles (4-15, 1-5) struggled to find an identity on offense outside of a brilliant showing by sophomore Jr. Clay. The young Tech squad made 11 turnovers in the first 20 minutes of play, falling behind, 43-29, headed into the break.
"I thought tonight our guys really did not play with any respect for our culture," Pelphrey expressed. "They were not a basketball team. They were not very competitive. We've talked a lot about establishing culture and having the right DNA, especially our attitude and body language. Tonight was a complete setback to all of that, quite honestly.
"Taking over a program, understanding where we are and establishing those things, we know there are going to be nights like tonight," he added. "But it's still disappointing."
Clay kept the purple and gold in the contest with his biggest first-half showing of the season, dropping 17 points on 5-for-9 shooting from the floor and a 5-for-6 showing from the charity stripe. He also collected three steals, willing his team to stay in the contest.
In the second half, Eastern Illinois inflated its advantage to 19 points with just over 12 minutes to go, forcing the Golden Eagles to call a timeout. The quick reset seemed to work at first, as Tech hit three consecutive shots from behind the arc to go on a 9-0 run and cut the deficit to just 10. Senior guards Darius Allen and Cade Crosland buried the triples, with Allen draining two.
A Panther timeout shifted the momentum right back to the home team, as the Golden Eagles struggled through a five-minute, scoreless drought and 8-0 run by Eastern Illinois that essentially put the ball game away.
"We were overwhelmed by Eastern Illinois, both offensively and defensively,"Pelphrey explained. "They really had their way with us. We had another 19 turnovers in the basketball game and showed some really poor shot selection. We were just not very aggressive at all, outside of Jr. Clay. Jr. Clay had a very good game, especially in the first half."
Clay finished the night with a season-high 22 points after drawing constant attention in the second half. The Chattanooga native added three rebounds, two assists and three steals to his all-around solid night. Allen joined his teammate in double figures, hitting a trio of treys and tallying 12 points. He also blocked three shots for the second-straight game.
"This will be an opportunity for us to double down on culture, attitude, body language and togetherness," Pelphrey said. "The guys will really have a deeper understanding of what that means to me and our coaching staff. At the end of the day, from a basketball perspective, they just have to do a better job understanding that they have to bring it every night. There's just great competition in this league and in college basketball period. If you don't go out there ready to play and compete, this can happen to you, whether you're home or on the road."
Tech will return home and to the comfort of the Hooper Eblen Center Thursday, Jan. 23 to host a rematch with Morehead State. Tip is set for 7:30 p.m. CT with the contest following the Golden Eagle women's tilt with the Eagles at 5:30 p.m. Morehead defeated Tech opening weekend of league play, 83-72.
Photo by Thomas Corhern