By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – Victory seemed a certainty to the fans of Tennessee Tech basketball Saturday evening as sophomore Jr. Clay converted three free throws with 1.7 seconds left to give the Golden Eagles a three-point lead over visiting Tennessee State.
Fate, as it turned out, had other ideas. The Tigers' Jy'lan Washington banked in a triple at the buzzer to send the contest to overtime. Tennessee State (14-9, 6-4) controlled the contest the rest of the way, shocking the Golden Eagles (5-18, 2-8) for a 72-67 victory.
"First of all, I thought that was a very, hard-fought basketball game," Pelphrey said. "Both teams really competed."
Needing to go the full length of the court, TSU's Carlos Marshall, Jr. launched a baseball pass to his own free-throw line. Wesley Harris lept into the air, caught the pass and simultaneously threw it to Washington behind the 3-point line. And just like that, it was overtime.
"You have to give them credit for going the length of the floor in 1.7 seconds," Pelphrey said. "I don't think they intended to bank in the shot, but at the same time, it was good execution on the play. By the same token, it's a little bit of a lucky shot, but that stuff happens in competition. That's what we're going to have to learn from this basketball game. It ends up coming down to the little things. But their last shot to force overtime is a painful thing. In overtime, they just played better than we did, especially offensively."
The Golden Eagles looked strong in the first half of the contest, taking a seven-point lead into the break behind another brilliant shooting performance from sophomore Hunter Vick. The Camden, Tenn. native scored all 15 of his points over the opening 20 minutes, drilling 4-of-5 attempts from downtown on a night where the 3-point shot was tough to come by for the purple and gold.
The struggles proved evident in the second half, as the Tigers opened the stanza on a 17-0 run with Tech missing on its first 12 attempts from deep and making just one of its first 20 shots. The offensive woes kept the Golden Eagles scoreless for almost nine minutes, but the defense kept the home squad in the game, never allowing TSU to pull away by more than 10.
Eventually, Tech found its rhythm and mounted a comeback that saw the team take the lead with just over four minutes to play. Tennessee State tied the contest with a little over 30 seconds on the clock, allowing Tech to hold the ball to the last possible second before Clay drew the foul on his attempt from beyond the arc.
"The whole first half was highly contested, and coming out to the second half, they kind of came at us and it took us a while to figure some things out there offensively," Pelphrey explained. "Down the stretch, our guys really stepped up and made some plays. Then they came back and at the end of regulation, they made one more shot to take it to overtime."
On the night, Tech dominated the offensive glass to the tune of 19-8 and won the overall board battel, 44-42. The purple and gold also forced 20 turnovers in the contest, but it was the tough night from 3-point range, and the field overall, that proved the difference. The Golden Eagles connected on just nine of their season-high 37 tries from deep, a percentage of 24.3.
"It's a tough loss," Pelphrey expressed. "I thought we really stayed with it and showed toughness and resolve. When you don't get the results you want, there is some pain and suffering that comes with that. Things get out of your control. This will test our basketball team. This will test The Code. I'm really eager to see how the team responds with their attitude, their body language and the effort they give on Monday and Tuesday in our preparation for next week."
Named the Special Olympics Player of the Game, Clay led all scorers with 21 points, dropping 15 of them in the second half and overtime. He also dished out five assists, tied his career-high with five steals and snagged five rebounds. Freshman Keishawn Davidson joined Clay and Vick in double figures with 14 points. The point guard hauled in six boards and tallied four assists.
Next week, the Golden Eagles will head out on a two-game, Ohio Valley Conference road trip, beginning with a Thursday night tilt at in-state rival UT Martin. Tip is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. CT. Tech will then visit Southeast Missouri on Saturday for a 4:00 p.m. match-up.
Photo by Thomas Corhern