By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – It was a tale of two halves for the Tennessee Tech men's basketball team Tuesday evening, as the Golden Eagles fell to in-state rival Chattanooga in the Hooper Eblen Center, 82-65, in a rematch from Nov. 16.
"Tonight was a tough battle for us," Tech head coach John Pelphrey said. "We put ourselves in a good position heading into halftime, but in the second half, we didn't play well. And you have to give Chattanooga a lot of credit for that."
The purple and gold came out firing on all cylinders to start the contest, kicking things off on a 10-2 run and taking as large as a 13-point lead at 28-15 with 8:32 to play in the opening stanza. The Mocs closed the gap towards the end of the first period, hitting a bucket with under five seconds to play to make it a 41-35 advantage in favor of the home team.
"I was actually a little bit concerned at halftime going into the locker room because I thought we should have had at least a double-figure lead," Pelphrey explained. "I thought our defense was starting to slip a little bit, just in terms of being able to contain the basketball off the bounce. In the second half, that continued. They got great guard play tonight and [David] Jean-Baptiste and [Malachi] Smith had almost 50 points between them. [Silvio] De Sousa was a problem inside too; he had a double-double with 17 [points] and 11 [rebounds].
"Anytime you deal with an opponent, you have to guard their best players and we didn't do a great job of that tonight. The other thing that hurt us in the second half was the ball pressure they put on us. It kind of got to us and some of that was us being a little bit casual or careless with the basketball. Every time we made a mistake like that, they really capitalized on it."
Chattanooga really turned up the intensity in the second half, hitting back-to-back treys on its first two possessions to tie the game. The Mocs went on to shoot 60 percent from the floor over the final 20 minutes of regulation, taking advantage of an ice-cold stretch from the Golden Eagles to open the half.
Tech hit just one of its first 12 attempts from the field coming out of the break and the visitors pounced. With the offensive struggles, Chattanooga produced a 21-2 run, taking a 13-point lead seven minutes into the half.
Junior Amadou Sylla led the Golden Eagles with 12 points and five rebounds on the night, adding a pair of blocks to the mix. Kenny White Jr. chipped in a season-high 11 points on 5-for-7 shooting with three boards. Jr. Clay contributed 10 points and six assists as well.
"This is going to be a little bit of a process for us, in terms of learning some of these things," Pelphrey expressed. "We do have some continuity in the program, which is good, but we still have a lot of new faces. We're going to have to go through some of this stuff together. We have to stay together and stay connected and focused on learning and growing. I think these guys will do that."
The Golden Eagles return to the hardwood with a road tilt at Evansville on Saturday. Playing in the same arena that hosts the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament, Tech will square off with the Purple Aces in a 1:00 p.m. CT match-up. 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