By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. – Victory on the hardwood typically comes down to execution when it matters most. That was indeed the case for the Tennessee Tech men's basketball team Saturday afternoon, as the Golden Eagles (6-19, 3-9) eked out a 62-60 victory at Southeast Missouri (5-20, 1-11) behind two clutch free throws and huge defensive stop.
"Anytime you can go on the road and win, that's really good," Tech head coach John Pelphrey said, "especially when you end the game with a defensive stop to win. That doesn't happen very often, so we feel very fortunate about that. Both basketball teams really competed. They're very well-coached and we knew it was going to be a hard-fought battle. We were very fortunate to win."
With under 10 seconds to play and the score knotted at 60, Jr. Clay drove into the paint looking for an opening to give his team the lead. The sophomore smartly acknowledged the lack of room to produce what he wanted and kicked the ball out to an open Dane Quest in the corner.
Quest made his way to the middle of the paint, gathered his balance and went up for a shot, drawing a foul with 5.7 seconds on the clock. The freshman proceeded to knock down a pair of freebies like a seasoned veteran, giving the Golden Eagles back the lead they had held virtually all day.
"The play before, Jr. had the ball, drove in there, got to a good spot and Hunter Vick was standing wide open at the top of the key and he just didn't see him," Pelphrey explained about the final two offensive possessions. "And I told him that. So the next time down the court, we tried to run a little, quick play with two cutters to try and get Jr. downhill. It didn't work, so he backed it up, drove it in the paint, couldn't get to the basket and shared the ball with his teammate. He trusted the offense. Dane caught it, ripped it, drove it up to the middle, tried to go up with it and score and got fouled. That was huge growth for Jr. from literally one play to the next."
Tech then held its own on the defensive end of the court, never allowing the Redhawks to get off a shot.
"Obviously, there was some growth there from Dane," Pelphrey remarked. "Against Tennessee State, we were up, he had a chance at a one-and-one to give us a cushion and he missed. That was one of several possessions down the stretch, and certainly not the lone reason for the outcome. But tonight, he was able to have a clear mind and make two big free throws to give us the lead."
While Quest saved his heroics for the final seconds, it was forward Garrett Golday that shouldered the load for the Golden Eagles on the day. The sophomore scored a career-high and team-high 13 points in just 14 minutes off the bench, finishing the game 6-for-9 from the floor. Five of the buckets came inside the paint, where the youngster dominated in short spurts.
Tech did kick off the game with a torrid start, scoring 17 points prior to the first media timeout while making seven of its first eight shots from the field. The paced slowed from the point on, but by the break, the Golden Eagles held a 37-26 advantage while shooting over 48 percent from the floor.
Turnovers and fouls plagued the purple and gold in the second half, allowing the Redhawks to creep their way back into the contest. Tech never panicked, however, always seeming to find just enough of an answer to keep the home squad from ever taking a lead. That, and winnings the rebound battle 34-29, paid dividends as the Golden Eagles earned their second road win in OVC play and first victory in Cape Girardeau since 2011.
"We got a lot of low-post scoring out of Garrett and that's huge for us," Pelphrey said. "It makes us less of a perimeter-oriented basketball team, so that was massive. Down the stretch there, and really the whole second half, we just really didn't play very good offensively. I thought in the first half, we executed really well, with the exception of a few illegal screens. In the second half, we fouled too much on defense and turned it over 12 times. But it only takes a couple of plays, to win a close game like that."
Clay, who battled foul trouble the majority of the night and was limited to 24 minutes, scored 11 points to make it 18-straight games in double figures for the Chattanooga native. Senior Darius Allen and freshman Keishawn Davidson each contributed eight points as well while sophomore Amadou Sylla controlled the glass with a team-high seven boards.
"The thing for the guys to understand is that there's still a lot of room for growth, both offensively and defensively," Pelphrey added. "I'm not sure why we can't get this closer to 40 minutes with our quality of play and sustained effort, but tonight, it could have been more of the same. And it wasn't. It came down to Jr. sharing the ball, trusting his teammates, one of them making a play, getting over whatever fears or concerns he had in the past, making two free throws and then getting a stop as a team. That's very positive for our basketball team."
The Golden Eagles return to the Hooper Eblen Center for a brief stop on Thursday, Feb. 13, playing host to Jacksonville State in a single contest at 6:00 p.m. CT. The Tech women will host the Gamecocks in a special 11:00 a.m. tilt as part of Education Day. Tickets will be sold separately for each game and can be purchased by visiting the TTU ticket office in the Eblen Center, by visiting TTUSports.com or by calling 931-372-3940.
Photo by Thomas Corhern