By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – For the fourth time in five games, the Tennessee Tech men's basketball team came out on top in Ohio Valley Conference action, this time besting Southeast Missouri, 71-62, on Senior Day in the Hooper Eblen Center.
Tech's three senior members, Cade Crosland, Darius Allen and Tyler Thompson, were each honored prior to the team's contest Saturday. Each of the three also earned a start on the night, the first of Thompson's career. To earn a victory on their special night was just the icing on the cake.
"We're very excited to have the chance to win on Senior Day and honor Cade, Darius and Tyler," Tech head coach John Pelphrey expressed. "Senior nights are special. I certainly remember mine and it always makes it more memorable when you can win."
Saturday's contest featured 11 lead changes and six ties, with the first double-digit lead of the night coming with just a minute to play. The Redhawks took their largest advantage of the day with a seven-point lead in the first half, but Tech answered with an 8-0 run to take its first lead of the game.
Southeast Missouri jumped back on top by one with under a minute in the first half, but again, the Golden Eagles had an answer. Sophomore Amadou Sylla made a turnaround jump shot and, with three seconds to play, Crosland buried a triple to give the purple and gold a 35-31 lead headed into the break.
"I'm just really proud of the team," Pelphrey said. "It was a hard-fought basketball game. We had to earn it. We had some really good moments in the game, both offensively and defensively, but SEMO battled and they were competitive in the game too. The game could have gone either way, but for one of the times this year, we were the tougher basketball team under four minutes."
SEMO took its final lead of the contest with just under six minutes to play and with just 3:29 on the clock, cut the Tech lead to three points. It was all Tech down the stretch, as the Golden Eagles turned in a 9-0 to go up by as much as 12. A late three from the Redhawks kept it from a double-digit win, but the clutch play by the Golden Eagles in crunch time was evident.
Sylla, named the Special Olympics Player of the Game, was one of the key cogs late, scoring eight of his 10 points and grabbing five of his six rebounds in the second half alone. Four more Golden Eagles finished the day in double figures, led by freshman Keishawn Davidson. The point guard scored 14 points with four assists.
Sophomore Jr. Clay tallied 12 points with team-highs of seven assists and four steals while freshman Tujautae Williams tied his season-high with 12 points. He also added six boards to tie for the team lead. Allen chipped in 10 points and five boards, playing particularly well in the second half, with eight points over the final 20 minutes.
"I told the guys, I thought that this was a total team win," Pelphrey explained. "Everybody had a chance to contribute. And that's the way it kind of has to be at this time of the year. Sometimes these conference wins feel like two. I'm just proud of the growth we made here."
"I think this is the first time for us to win a game on Thursday and then win another on Saturday," he continued. "It's not easy to do and that's the way it is for our conference schedule. We need to get used to that and continue to push the standard of competitiveness we need to play to in order to help us get these results. I couldn't be more proud of the guys and for being able to win these two basketball games."
The Golden Eagles kept their OVC Tournament hopes alive with their second win in-a-row, sitting just one game back of the final spot in the league's postseason event in Evansville. Tech will now hit the road for its final two regular-season tilts, beginning with an in-state battle at Belmont Thursday evening. Tip is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. CT in Nashville.
Photo by Thomas Corhern