By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
MEMPHIS, Tenn. – A pair of early runs in the first and second half of the 2021-22 season opener proved too much for the Tennessee Tech men's basketball team to overcome Tuesday evening, as the Golden Eagles fell on the road at No. 12 Memphis, 89-65.
The defending National Invitation Tournament champion Tigers opened the contest on a 13-0 run, using a hot start from the floor and a slow beginning from the purple and gold to burst out of the gate. Memphis sunk nine of its first 11 tries from the field, setting the tone early.
The home team shot 13-of-26 from downtown and 59.3 percent from the field, combining its strong offense with an effective defense. Memphis blocked 11 Golden Eagles shots in the contest while forcing 15 turnovers.
"They are a very good basketball team and everyone knew that coming in," Tech head coach John Pelphrey said of Memphis. "They were very well organized offensively and did a great job shooting tonight. They had great ball movement and I was just impressed with them overall."
The Golden Eagles fought and clawed their way back in the first half, turning a 16-point deficit into just eight in less than a minute as the opening stanza wound down. The Tigers hit a triple at the buzzer to make it a 52-41 lead at the break.
"I was impressed with our team too," Pelphrey added. "We have strength in number right now with a lot of guys, but there is room to improve. We have some more competition now than we have the past two seasons."
The Tigers used another double-figure run to kick off the second half, scoring 10 straight and using their length and size to keep Tech at bay the rest of the way. The purple and gold cut the deficit to 14 points with just over six minutes to play, but the Memphis defense held the visitors to just 1-of-10 and two points down the stretch.
"We played well in the first half offensively," Pelphrey expressed. "We didn't play particularly well in the second half and you have to give Memphis credit for their pressure defense. I just feel like we missed some opportunities and our ball-handling got a little sloppy. We struggled a little with their length and finishing around the basket."
As a team, the Golden Eagles forced 17 Memphis turnovers, racking up 10 steals as a unit. The Tech offense was held to 38.7 percent shooting from the floor and 27.3 percent from downtown, with a tough second half of 30.3 percent from the field and 20.0 percent from deep.
Cincinnati transfer Mamoudou Diarra paced the purple and gold in his debut with the Cookeville crew, scoring 11 points on 3-for-4 shooting in just under 17 minutes of action. The Bamako, Mali native hit 2-of-3 attempts from 3-point range and sunk all three of his free throw attempts.
Preseason All-Ohio Valley Conference pick Jr. Clay just missed a double-double, producing nine points with a game-high eight assists. Both returning freshman Kenny White Jr. and newcomer Diante Wood each added eight points and four rebounds off the bench. Ten different Golden Eagles scored at least four points in the contest.
"Our success this season will come down to how close we can be, how we focus, and how much work we put in on a daily basis to get better. It'll be fun to be back home and continue this stretch of four games in 10 days to start our season. We would love to have everyone come out and support us."
Tech will return to Cookeville to host Oakwood in the team's home opener on Sunday, Nov. 14. Tip is set for a 4:00 p.m. CT start in the Hooper Eblen Center. Season tickets for Tennessee Tech men's basketball are now on sale. To order, call (931) 372-3940, visit the Eblen Center ticket office or visit TTUSports.com.
Photo courtesy of Joe Murphy