By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
MARTIN, Tenn. – An early hole proved too costly and too big for the Tennessee Tech men's basketball team to overcome Thursday evening, as the Golden Eagles fell on the road to in-state rival UT Martin in Ohio Valley Conference action, 74-62.
The Skyhawks (7-15, 3-8) got off to a torrid start early in the contest, firing above 70 percent from the floor over the opening five minutes. Tech (5-19, 2-9), on the other hand, struggled to find a groove in that same time frame, shooting just under 20 percent from the field.
The pace improved a touch on both sides over the remainder of the first half, but UT Martin built a commanding 44-22 lead at the break while nearly doubling the Golden Eagle offensive efficiency.
"We've made some strides this year as a basketball team," Tech head coach John Pelphrey said. "We've got some guys really growing as individuals, and we certainly need that to continue. One area that has not really gotten better at all is our defense. We just really struggle. I think our understanding of how to play defense needs to improve. It all starts with positioning on the ball. The other part is positioning off the ball and on help defense. Those certainly lack a lot.
"I think the other thing that hurts us, because we don't have a shot-blocker and we get beat, other guards just kind of score over the top of us," Pelphrey explained. "We need to develop some players in the weight room and we also need to do a good job with our recruiting, because physically, right now, sometimes on the defensive end, we just get run over. We saw that against Eastern Kentucky and we've seen it a couple of other times at different moments. We just need to get bigger and more physical."
In the second half, the Skyhawks extended their advantage to 31 points with just over 14 minutes to play, but the Golden Eagles refused to give in and showed the same fight and resiliency they had all season. Over the remainder of the contest, Tech outscored UT Martin, 35-16, while forcing nine turnovers. Half of the purple and gold's 16 assists in the contest also came over that same stretch.
"The guys didn't quit," Pelphrey remarked. "They battled back. We won the second half again. It's kind of been a little bit of the story for this basketball team. But we need to decide what we want to do. Do we want to grow from this and try to continue to compete under four minutes for wins? I thought tonight, was really an opportunity for us to do that."
On the night, sophomore Jr. Clay led the Golden Eagles in scoring with 17 points, 12 of which came in the second half. He also dished out six assists to just one turnover and produced three steals. Joining him in double figures was freshman guard Keishawn Davidson. The youngster scored all 13 of his points in the second stanza and dished out a trio of dimes with a pair of steals.
Tujautae Williams added nine points and five boards to the mix while Hunter Vick chipped in eight off the bench. Reece Wilkinson scored the team's first five points and finished with seven total on the night.
"They're players deserved everything they got tonight," Pelphrey expressed "Their coach had them very well-prepared and in the right mindset. I clearly didn't do a good enough job in the locker room. When you're not in the right place mentally, more often than not, the ball doesn't go in. If we're going to be an offensive basketball team, then we're going to have to get our mind in the right spot. I want us to have balance on both sides of the ball and we didn't have that tonight. We will, but tonight was not one of our better efforts and certainly, that falls upon me."
The Golden Eagles are set to conclude their OVC road trip with a Saturday match-up at Southeast Missouri. Tip in Cape Girardeau, Mo. is scheduled for 4:00 p.m. CT in the Show Me Center and will follow the Tech women's contest against the Redhawks, which kicks off at 2:00 p.m.
Photo courtesy of UT Martin Sports Information