By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – A total team effort propelled the Tennessee Tech men's basketball team to its first Ohio Valley Conference win in the comfort of the Hooper Eblen Center this season, as the Golden Eagles took down long-time foe Morehead State Thursday evening, 71-59.
Almost directly out of the gate, it was Tech's contest to lose. After Morehead State (9-11, 3-4) took a 4-2 lead very early in the contest, a move to the bench seemed to light a fire for the Golden Eagles (5-15, 2-5). Junior walk-on Maverick Smith entered the contest just two minutes in and promptly hit a 3-pointer for his first bucket of the season.
Tech didn't trail the rest of the night.
"First of all, I'm really proud of the team," Tech head coach John Pelphrey said. "We had three really hard days of work at practice, focusing a lot on defense, positioning, recovering well, blocking out and rebounding. Offensively, we wanted to be really aggressive versus some of their pick-and-roll coverages that gave us a little bit of a problem up there [in Morehead, Ky.]. More than anything else, we were just trying to get organized."
The triple by the veteran guard kick-started a 19-4 run by the purple and gold that resulted in a 13-point lead, the team's largest of the night until the very end of the contest. The Golden Eagles spent the remainder of the contest bending, but not breaking, keeping at least five points of separation from the Eagles until the end.
A 7-0 run by Morehead early in the second half looked ominous to some, as the visitors closed the gap to just those five points with 13:34 to go. Freshman Dane Quest delivered one of the biggest shots of the contest, burying a trey from the corner in front of the Tech bench to put the Golden Eagles back up by eight and steal back some much-needed momentum.
"When the game showed up, we wanted to get our best game into the game," Pelphrey explained. "We wanted to be able to sustain play, be consistent and be resilient with our play. We specifically challenged our guards. I thought Keishawn Davidson was really good tonight. Obviously Jr. [Clay] has been playing at a high clip. Tae [Tujautae Williams] was able to get some plays into the game. We're really doubling down on those guys in terms of their youth and skill level."
Clay led the Golden Eagles with 18 points on 7-of-12 shooting and added five assists to the mix, marking his 13th straight game in double figures this season. Davidson posted 12 points with five rebounds and six dimes while Williams turned in a season-high 12 points.
Smith, who was named the Special Olympics Player of the Game for his inspiring play that clearly shifted the contest in favor of the Golden Eagles early, scored a season-high five points while playing nearly 12 tough minutes off the bench. He also racked up a steal and rebound. Senior Cade Crosland chipped in eight points while Darius Allen collected seven points, seven rebounds and three steals. Reece Wilkinson tied Allen for the team lead in boards with seven as well.
"We want to play inside-out and tonight we did really well," Pelphrey said. "We had 15 assists and only 11 turnovers. When you do that, you have that understanding, as a playmaker, that you're taking the focus off yourself and brining other people into play. Cade Crosland had eight points tonight. Mav [Maverick Smith] had five points and a couple of great opportunities tonight. You bring other people in and that's the sign of a great player, when you make the game easy for your teammates. Tonight, I thought that was the best those guys have done in getting that accomplished. Our challenge now is to sustain this."
Tech used a big first half to collect the victory, shooting over 50 percent from the floor and connecting on an impressive eight of its 16 tries from downtown. On the night, the Golden Eagles earned 18 points off turnovers, forcing 17 total by Morehead State. The purple and gold also saw more bench production, gathering 18 points to the Eagles' 10.
The Golden Eagles will look to make it two wins in-a-row Saturday evening, playing host to Eastern Kentucky in a 7:30 p.m. CT rematch from earlier this season.
Photo by Thomas Corhern