By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – Kids dream of the moment from the first time they set foot on the hardwood. In the game of basketball, what could be better than putting up the night of your career and hitting a game-winning 3-pointer with under 10 seconds to play?
Former walk-on and local Sparta native Cade Crosland lived that dream Thursday evening, connecting on a triple with 7.7 seconds on the clock to lift the Tennessee Tech men's basketball team to a 75-74 victory over visiting Ohio Valley Conference rival Jacksonville State. The Golden Eagles (7-19, 4-9) then held the Gamecocks (10-16, 5-8) defensively on the final possession, as Jr. Clay got a fingertip on a last-second effort to secure the team's second win in-a-row.
"We feel very fortunate," Tech head coach John Pelphrey said. "Jacksonville State and Coach Ray Harper's basketball team have done great in this league since he's been there. They're always in the top four and we knew this would be a hard-fought battle. They caused us a lot of problems, but we shot it really well. Our guys just kind of kept playing and hanging in there, and when you do that in a competitive environment, especially at home, something good may happen to you."
The contest featured many ups-and-downs from the very beginning, with Jacksonville State opening the contest on an 8-0 run. Tech took its first lead of the game, fittingly on a trey from Crosland, halfway through the first stanza, 20-17. The Gamecocks answered with an 11-0 run, but Tech responded in kind to take a 43-40 advantage into the break off a triple from Jr. Clay.
Tech's hot play to end the first half continued into the second, as the Golden Eagles opened their largest lead of the contest, an 11-point edge, with 16:24 to go. The offense sputtered a bit down the stretch, allowing the Gamecocks to get back in the contest and take a four-point lead with under two minutes to play.
With the ball in Jacksonville State's hands and the clock beginning to wind down, freshman Dane Quest stepped up for the second straight game, taking a crucial charge to give Tech the ball with 49 seconds left. A Hunter Vick layup with 22 seconds on the clock pulled the Golden Eagles within two. Desperate for a stop, the Golden Eagles went to a press that resulted in a Gamecock travel and subsequent turnover.
Rookie Keishawn Davidson took the ball on the final possession for the purple and gold, eventually drove it into the lane and kicked it out to Crosland. The senior dribbled towards the top of the 3-point line, passing the ball to Hunter Vick, who drove it around down the right side. With two Gamecocks collapsing on him, the sophomore kicked it back out to a wide-open Crosland on the wing of the arc.
"Even down to the last play, I think there were two or three guys that handled it," Pelphrey said. "They just kept the ball moving and usually, when you do that, the defense breaks down. We found the open guy and he stepped up there and buried it."
The crowd favorite, who transferred to Tech from Chattanooga State as a sophomore walk-on, earned a scholarship later that season and was named a team captain heading into the 2019-20 campaign, calmly buried the shot, his career-high seventh triple of the contest. It provided him a career-high 21 points on the night, earning him Special Olympics Player of the Game honors.
"Tonight was probably one of the better exhibitions we have put on in terms of our ball-handling and passing," Pelphrey explained. "Keishawn and Jr. had, I think, 15 assists and only three turnovers. Our offense was just really efficient and we got some really good looks from the 3-point line, no one more so than this guy [Crosland]."
Overall, Tech's 3-point shooting, defensive work and ball movement lifted the team to its first victory over the Gamecocks since 2017. The Golden Eagles connected on a season-high 15 of its 32 tries from beyond the arc, racked up a season-high 13 steals and dished out 20 assists.
"I'm really proud of our team," Pelphrey expressed. "The Tennessee State situation taught us a really good lesson. We've worked really hard on end-of-the-game defense and two games in-a-row now have come down to a defensive possession for us. We've been able to hang in there and get a stop. The team is growing a little bit, but I still think we have a lot of room for growth."
Joining Crosland in double figures off the bench, Vick chipped in 15 points a team-high five rebounds while hitting 3-of-7 from deep and 6-of-10 overall. Clay scored 13 points, distributed seven helpers and tallied three steals. Davidson played a game-high 35 minutes, producing 12 points, eight dimes and a season-high five steals.
"Defensively, we have to continue to improve, especially when we go on the road," Pelphrey said. "There will be some adjustments for this next game, but tonight, I'm just very proud of the group. The attitude of just staying with it was great. Even in the last timeout, there was great leadership in the huddle. We talked about just going for it, having a calm mind and having plenty of time. And I think the last thing I heard, which was from this guy [Crosland], was 'just have some fun.'"
No question about it. They had some fun, perhaps no one more than Crosland.
Tech heads back to the road on Saturday, making its annual visit to the Gentry Center in Nashville for an in-state battle with Tennessee State. The Golden Eagles will look to avenge its overtime loss to the Tigers from Feb. 1, a game sent to an extra period after a TSU buzzer-beating 3-pointer, with tip set for 7:30 p.m. CT.
Photo by Thomas Corhern