By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – An incredible defensive effort and resilience like you read about would be the best description for the Tennessee Tech men's basketball team Friday afternoon, as the Golden Eagles left it all on the court in an 80-69 loss at No. 15 Tennessee at Thompson-Boling Arena.
In front of a crowd of 16,909 roaring Vols fans, the purple and gold controlled the first half of the contest, using a relentless defensive showing to hold a Tennessee squad averaging more than 80 points per game to just 34 at the break. With just over a second to play in the opening 20 minutes, junior guard Jr. Clay hit a triple, pushing the Golden Eagles out front, 35-34, heading into the locker room.
"The one thing that we're starting to develop as an identity is that we're going to get great effort and good toughness," Tech head coach John Pelphrey said. "We're not going to check out and we're going to stay with it. I thought we just kind of stayed with it there in the first half. They turned it over a couple of times and that helped us. We got a steal or two, but if you asked what I thought we did the best tonight, I think we just stayed together and stayed with it."
In the second half, the Vols came out firing, hitting an immediate shot from deep to take back over the lead. Without flinching, sophomore guard Keishawn Davidson answered with his own make from beyond the arc. Both sides traded jump shots before UT's leading scorer, Santiago Vescovi, buried his second trey of the half.
Again, the Golden Eagles had a response, with Clay burying a 25-footer to put the Cookeville crew back on top. He followed with a layup to make it a three-point lead for Tech, its largest of the game.
Tennessee kept working the ball inside the paint, chipping away and eventually pushing out front for good at the 13:11 mark of the second half. The Vol defense also forced 19 Tech turnovers in the contest, providing more possession and eight more shots from the field.
"It's just a recognition that there are two halves of basketball," Pelphrey explained. "I don't fault our guys' effort. We just have to continue to grow and learn to play basketball better. Certainly, 19 turnovers is not clean. It wasn't so much of them doing a whole lot defensively that we haven't seen, I just thought they were very, very aggressive.
"We were just not able to consistently handle getting the ball popped out of our hands, reaching for it with one hand, grabbing a rebound with one hand, or trying to finish a play with one hand. The problem with that stuff, is those are situations that immediately lead to baskets that you can't defend."
Clay led the Golden Eagles in the contest with a season-high 19 points, including 12 in the second half alone. He added three assists and a pair of steals while shooting 50 percent from 3-point range. Davidson also finished in double figures, contributing 10 points and a team-high four dimes.
Sophomore forward Daniel Ramsey delivered 12 points on 5-for-8 shooting. Junior big man Amadou Sylla was a beast on the glass, hauling in a game-high nine rebounds while chipping in eight points to the mix as well.
"At the end of the day, Tennessee is a very good team. They're physical, well-coached, they win a bunch of basketball games. We love Coach [Rick] Barnes and appreciate the opportunity to come up here and play."
The Golden Eagles return to Cookeville for a rematch with in-state rival Chattanooga on Tuesday, Nov. 30 in the Hooper Eblen Center. Tip for the contest is set for 6:00 p.m. CT with the game set to be streamed on ESPN+. 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 Thomas Corhern