By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – Incredible fight, tenacious defense, and a hot finish lifted the Tennessee Tech men's basketball team to a thrilling, 88-77 victory over in-state rival Lipscomb Tuesday evening at the Hooper Eblen Center. The Golden Eagles (2-3) took down a Bisons squad off to their best start since 2018-19, producing a massive second half that saw the home team outscore the visitors 52-36.
Despite one of its best offensive showings of the year, it was the defense that really stood out for the purple and gold, forcing a whopping 22 turnovers by Lipscomb (4-2). Tech still needed a strong offensive showing as well, as the Bisons shot 64.4 percent from the floor and 66.7 percent from 3-point range.
"They've really been on a roll the last three, four, five years," Tech head coach John Pelphrey said of Lipscomb. "He's [Lennie Acuff] an unbelievable coach and I love the way their team has played. They've had some huge success and are off to a great start. We probably got a little bit lucky tonight. They don't normally turn it over 22 times in two games, but I do think we were able to put some pressure on them. That's something we need to take with us into every basketball game."
The Golden Eagles got off to a tough start on the offensive end during the night, starting 0-for-6 from distance one game after finishing 0-for-21 from deep against UNC Asheville. Lipscomb used the cold stretch to take as large as a 14-point advantage, but Tech never gave in.
"I thought we were a little on edge, I guess, to start the game," Pelphrey explained. "We had to settle in a little. Getting down by 14 is never fun. They really did an amazing job moving the ball against our zone. We felt we had to keep changing defenses because we didn't want to have to guard them so many possessions in man-to-man and know what was coming. You can see why, because they shot 64 percent. Thank goodness they turned it over 22 times."
Ball security and hot shooting down the stretch proved to be the biggest difference-maker for the purple and gold. After making eight turnovers over the first 20 minutes, and two more on the first two possession of the second half, Tech went the remaining 19 minutes of action without another one.
Following their 0-for-6 start from 3-point range, the Golden Eagles completed the night 10-for-15 the rest of the way, paced by an incredible performance by graduate forward Shandon Goldman. The big man hit 5-of-6 tries from beyond the arc on his way to 15 points, putting his team ahead for the first time and for good at the 7:02 mark with his third triple of the night. He added a team-high eight rebounds as well.
Goldman was one of several recipients of one of the more incredible performances by a duo in Tech history, as veteran guards and team captains Jr. Clay and Keishawn Davidson were like distribution machines. The two combined for an eye-popping 19 assists with making a single turnover between the pair.
Davidson picked up his third career double-double with 15 points and a game-high 10 dimes, shooting a career-best 8-for-8 from the charity stripe. Clay produced 12 points and nine helpers, tying his own career-high of five steals. He also passed Brent Jolly for 17th on the program's all-time career scoring list, sitting at 1,300 so far.
"We had to deal with adversity in the game like you always do, but I liked our team's resilience," Pelphrey expressed. "I thought we had a lot of fight. And all of the sudden in the second half, we found some rhythm with our offense. Biggie [Goldman] started making some shots and, obviously, he was the recipient of the ball moving very well and guys standing in the right spots. Keishawn and Jr. may have been at their best since they've been here together. I think they had 19 assists and no turnovers, which is unheard of."
Leading the Golden Eagles in scoring on the night was junior transfer Mamoudou Diarra, pouring in a career-high 21 points on 8-for-13 shooting. The forward corralled seven rebounds as well, playing 33 minutes, the most of his career. Fellow transfer Diante Wood added nine points to the mix.
"I'm just really proud of the guys," Pelphrey added. "I just liked our heart, our toughness, and our resilience. I know it's only one game and our schedule is brutal. It's really hard. It challenges us every single night, but I'm also excited to see what we learn and how good can we be. I'm super, super excited for these guys tonight."
Tech will hit the road for a trip to Knoxville and match-up with in-state foe and No. 15 nationally-ranked Tennessee Friday afternoon. The two squads will square off at 2:00 p.m. CT in a contest set to be streamed on SEC Network+. 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.
Photo by Jim Dillon