By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – It was a day of highlights for the Tennessee Tech men's basketball team, as the Golden Eagles cruised to a 109-68 victory over Oakwood University at the Hooper Eblen Center Sunday afternoon.
The purple and gold looked strong across the board while topping the century mark for the first time since a 118-60 win over Warren Wilson College in 2018-19. Tech (1-1) shot 53.7 percent from the floor and 48.4 percent from downtown on the day, turning in 29 assists, 10 steals, and a whopping 11 blocks.
"I thought tonight the guys did a really good job of coming out and trying to show progress from some of the experiences we've had early this season with starting slow," Tech head coach John Pelphrey said. "Certainly, that was a big thing for us in our last game [at Memphis]. We started down 13-0 in the first half and 10-0 in the second half. We wanted to show maturity, some growth, and what we learned from those previous experiences. And I think we did that."
The Golden Eagles kicked off the action with a 14-4 run over the first four minutes, and despite a 10-run from the Ambassadors to tie the game, never looked uncomfortable. Tech took the hit in stride and answered with an 8-0 run of its own, never allowing Oakwood within a single bucket again.
"Offensively tonight, I thought everyone worked really well together, otherwise it's really hard to get 29 assists and just 11 turnovers," Pelphrey expressed. "That's outstanding. I thought Jr. Clay may have played one of his best games ever. He never once got outside of himself offensively and just really shared and moved the ball. He and Keishawn [Davidson], you can tell how much work we've put in, and tonight they just did a great job of leading our basketball team and helping us play the right way. All of that led to some really good performances."
Clay had a special night running the Tech offense, producing his third career double-double with 11 points and a career-high-tying 10 assists while making zero turnovers. He also tallied four steals and even earned a standing ovation from his teammates on the bench with his first career dunk.
Fellow backcourt mate Keishawn Davidson exploded for a number of career-bests in the contest, leading all scorers with a new top mark of 28 points. Dangerously efficient, he finished 10-for-12 from the floor and any eye-popping 6-for-7 from downtown, both career-highs for makes.
Despite playing just 14-and-a-half minutes in the ball game, Cincinnati transfer Mamoudou Diarra, the team's leading scorer at Memphis, also enjoyed a breakout performance. The junior delivered a career-best 19 points on 8-for-14 shooting with a 3-for-6 clip from beyond the arc. He also tied his career-high showing of nine rebounds, with seven coming on the offensive glass.
"Mamoudou has been working hard here the last couple of weeks, just as much off the floor as on the floor," Pelphrey explained. "We talk all the time about how if you handle your business in other areas of your life, basketball also becomes easier. Tonight, for him to get 19 points and nine rebounds in less than 15 minutes of action is outstanding. He was completely dominant on the offensive glass. This isn't something he's limited to against this opponent, this is something he can do against anyone."
Fellow transfer (from Xavier) Daniel Ramsey also turned in a career-high day in scoring, sinking 7-of-8 attempts from the floor on his way to 14 points in just over 12 minutes of work. Yet another Division I transfer, Caleb Christopher of Arizona State, scored a career-best seven points in just four minutes.
Cookeville native, walk-on, and former manager Bailey Gilliam made his collegiate debut late in the ball game, scoring his first career points with a fast-break layup. Big man Amadou Sylla tied his career-best mark of three rejections while leading the Tech block party. Shandon Goldman, Marcus Hopkins, and Diarra each tallied a pair of blocks as well. Hopkins set a new career standard with seven rebounds to add to the record-breaking evening.
"For me as a coach, I was very happy with the progress tonight," Pelphrey added. "We have another challenge coming right around the corner, so there will be a lot of things for us to look at moving forward, just in terms of handling this, preparing for the next, and then taking on an opponent that's picked to win their league, on the road in their building. It will be fun to watch to see how our guys respond."
The Golden Eagles will hit the road for a 6:00 p.m. Tuesday tilt with in-state foe Chattanooga, the first of two contests in Chattanooga in three days. Part of the Coke Zero Sugar Classic, Tech will also face UNC Asheville on Thursday, squaring off in the Moc's McKenzie Arena in a 5:00 p.m. match-up.
Photo by Jim Dillon