By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. – In a game of runs, it was UNC Asheville that came out on top in the final game of the Coke Zero Sugar Classic Thursday evening, as the Tennessee Tech men's basketball team fell to the Bulldogs at McKenzie Arena, 61-55.
The Golden Eagles endured a tough night shooting the basketball, particularly from downtown. For the first time since Feb. 10, 2011, the purple and gold failed to connect from beyond the arc, finishing 0-for-21.
Despite the struggles from 3-point range, the Tech defense held its own, propelling the team back from a 12-point, second-half deficit and into the lead. A 19-4 run by the Golden Eagles saw the squad jump into a six-point advantage.
"It wasn't our best night at any moment in time, but we did battle really hard and were competitive," Tech head coach John Pelphrey said. "We physically gave a lot of effort. We just didn't execute or play very solid basketball, especially after we got a six-point lead and had the ball."
Just before the final media break of the contest, UNCA Asheville forced a Tech turnover and score a bucket, cutting the advantage to four. The Bulldogs held the purple and gold without a basket the remainder of the night, using four more turnovers down the stretch to end the game on a 12-0 run.
"I think we had at least two or three turnovers there in-a-row and just weren't able to get shots," Pelphrey explained. "We had a couple of wide-open looks down the stretch and just didn't make them. It was just a tough, tough loss on a night when we didn't have our best."
Both defenses were hard at work during the evening, with the Bulldogs forcing 21 Tech turnovers. The Golden Eagles forced 16 by UNCA. The purple and gold also dominated the glass, hauling in 47 boards to just 31 for UNC Asheville.
"It's one basketball game," Pelphrey expressed. "I think sometimes when you don't see the ball go through the basket, that can be very discouraging and you can lose energy. That's something that can't happen. You have to keep fighting, scratching, and clawing, and some nights rely on your defense."
Transfer guards Diante Wood and John Pettway led the Golden Eagles offensively during the contest, combining for 27 of the team's 55 points. Wood hit 6-of-8 tries from the field on his way to 14 points while Pettway, also 6-for-8 from the floor, finished with 13 points.
Forward Amadou Sylla hauled in a game-high 11 rebounds with eight points while fellow Bamako, Mali native Mamoudou Diarra corralled seven boards with six points. Jr. Clay chipped in six points, five rebounds, and three steals.
"We still had a chance," Pelphrey said. "Anytime you turn it over 21 times in a basketball game, and I think 13 of those came in the second half and several inside of four minutes, it's really hard to win. Even with the 21 turnovers, we still only gave up 61 points, so we'll learn from this and get better. We're still a young basketball team in terms of being together as a unit, but that was a tough one tonight."
The Golden Eagles return to Cookeville for a Tuesday night tilt with in-state rival Lipscomb. Tip for the contest is set for 6:00 p.m. CT. Season tickets for Tennessee Tech basketball are on sale now. Call (931) 372-3940, visit the Hooper Eblen Center ticket office, or log on to TTUSports.com to order yours today.
File photo by Joe Murphy