By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – One of the best overall efforts of the season propelled the Tennessee Tech men's basketball team to a 78-65 Ohio Valley Conference victory over in-state rival UT Martin Thursday evening in the Hooper Eblen Center.
The Golden Eagles (8-20, 5-10) avenged a loss to the Skyhawks (8-18, 4-11) in Martin earlier in the month, claiming the team's 400th victory all-time in the comfort of the Eblen Center, which was opened in 1977.
"I'm just very proud of the guys," Tech head coach John Pelphrey said. "We put a lot of hard work in on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. I thought we practiced really well, especially from an offensive perspective. The ball was flying around in practice and we got that into the game tonight. It may not show up in our shooting percentage, but we got great shots. We took really good care of the basketball and had only seven turnovers."
Overall, the purple and gold dished out 20 assists for the fifth time this season, with four of those contests resulting in victory. The team's seven turnovers represented the fewest for the Golden Eagles all season as well.
The Skyhawks gathered the first bucket of the ball game, but Tech responded with a 14-1 run to take the lead for good. The Golden Eagles extended the advantage to as much as 17 points in the first half and never let the game get closer than six the remainder of the night.
"I felt really proud of the progress the guys are making on offense," Pelphrey expressed. "We had four guys in double figures and two more guys with nine. That's outstanding."
Senior Cade Crosland led Tech with 15 points on 5-for-11 shooting from downtown off the bench, earning Special Olympics Player of the Game honors. Sophomore Jr. Clay produced 14 points with seven assists, three rebounds and three steals while freshman Tujautae Williams chipped in 11 points, six boards and three dimes.
Fellow rookie Keishawn Davidson wrapped up the double-digit scorers for Tech with 10 points and six assists. Senior Darius Allen and sophomore Amadou Sylla each added nine points to the mix, with Sylla also corralling a team-high nine rebounds.
"Defensively, I think we made a little bit of growth," Pelphrey explained. "We held this team to the 60s, which is an improvement. We knew in the second half that [Quintin] Dove was really going to try to go, and he did. He's an outstanding basketball player. I wasn't as worried about those guys going two-by-two-by-two. We didn't want them getting 3-point plays. We didn't want them getting kick-out, 3-point shots along with him getting his."
Tech dominated in the points off turnovers and fast-break categories on the night. The Golden Eagles scored 18 points off UT Martin miscues as opposed to the Skyhawks' five such points. The purple and gold also held the visitors without a fast-break bucket while dropping 15 of its own. Additionally, Tech held UT Martin to just 4-of-16 from 3-point range.
"I think for the most part, our guys were resilient and tough," Pelphrey said. "They stayed with it. There was a point in time in the second half when the lead got cut to six points, and we still couldn't get it going from the 3-point line, Darius Allen had a couple of huge offensive rebounds. He had a big dunk on the break. I think Tae [Williams] got one. Larry Kuimi got one. Jr. drove it in for a layup. Keishawn went in there, so we found ways to get ourselves easy baskets and then were able to come back out and find some shots from the perimeter."
Overall, the Skyhawks actually turned in a better field goal percentage of 46.4 to Tech's 41.9, but the Golden Eagles managed to get good look after good look, hitting 11-of-36 tries from beyond the arc.
"Our execution was great, but sometimes the ball just doesn't go in the basket and you have to be tough enough to deal with that," Pelphrey explained. "It's not really about the result or whether it goes in or not, it's about what did we do to get ourselves a good look? I thought tonight was one of our better performances with that. We're very happy about that. Overall, it was a great night for us."
The Golden Eagles will host their final home game of the regular season Saturday afternoon, squaring off with Southeast Missouri in a 4:00 p.m. CT tilt. The contest will represent Senior Day, with the three senior members of the Tech men's team set to be honored prior to the contest in a special ceremony.
Photo by Thomas Corhern