By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – Ball movement and a revitalized defense in the second half were key for the Tennessee Tech men's basketball team Thursday afternoon, as the Golden Eagles tied a 21-year-old program record on its way to a 117-60 victory over Montreat College in the Hooper Eblen Center.
"First of all, we'd like to say thank you to Montreat for making this happen because we lost a game with Kentucky Christian [due to COVID-19 protocols at KCU] and were concerned if we'd be able to get another one scheduled in such a short period of time," Tech head coach John Pelphrey expressed. "We're very appreciative of them and I thought they played very well in the first half, especially from the 3-point line. I think they got up 19 threes and made eight of them, so they gave us some problems."
The purple and gold picked up its third victory of the season, dropping the most points by a Golden Eagle squad since defeating Warren Wilson College 118-60 back on Dec. 6, 2018. On the night, Tech dished out a whopping 36 assists, tying the program's single-game mark set against Toccoa Falls College on Jan. 11, 2000.
"I think we've made a lot of progress there over the first couple of seasons I've been here," Pelphrey said. "At certain points in time, we've really understood spacing, moving the basketball, and working inside to out. There were just some beautiful examples of that today. The challenge is going to be when we go up against competitive teams like we've been, you have to do it seven, eight, nine times out of 10 if you're going to have a chance to score. That will be our challenge, not just do it once, but on a repetitive basis. It's fun to see the ball being shared like that. It's always good to see the ball go in the basket. It's too bad we couldn't get one more to set that record."
The visiting Cavaliers made the first half of the ball game a bit of a barn burner, hitting eight triples and keeping pace with Tech for the first seven minutes. A triple from returning guard Jr. Clay opened a 20-2 run for the Cookeville crew, allowing the Golden Eagles to take a commanding 55-38 lead into the locker room.
Making some key adjustments defensively, Tech cruised over the final 20 minutes of action, holding Montreat to just 22 points and 1-for-12 from distance in the second half. The Golden Eagles more than doubled their advantage with a monster showing on offense as well, dropping 62 points for the most in a half since unloading 65 over the final 20 minutes against Warren Wilson on Dec. 6, 2018.
"We were able to score some points in the first half, but we really wanted to focus and have more attention to detail from a defensive perspective," Pelphrey explained. "To go out in the second half and only give up 22 points was an improvement. Today was the first of three games in a six-day period. We couldn't do anything about tomorrow or the next game until we played this one, so today was our mission."
A total of 15 Golden Eagles saw action in the contest, with each posting at least one rebound, 14 scoring at least three points, and 13 dishing out at least one assist. Clay led the offensive charge, pouring in a season-high 20 points with five rebounds, four assists, a pair of steals.
Keishawn Davidson had a very balanced day, scoring 14 points with a team-high seven dimes and five rebounds without making a turnover. Kenny White Jr. helped propel the Tech lead in each half, providing 13 points, four assists, three steals, and a team-high six boards.
Mamoudou Diarra collected 11 points and four helpers while Daniel Ramsey chipped in 10 points on 4-for-4 shooting. Making his season debut was returning freshman Austin Harvell, who contributed five points, two assists, and four rebounds in 11 minutes of action. Cookeville native Bailey Gilliam drilled his first 3-pointer of his career on the night as well.
"We're happy to get the win and happy to show some improvement defensively throughout the game," Pelphrey said. "It was really good to see a lot of guys have a chance to get in the game and play. Austin Harvell is coming off a really tough summer and start to the fall. He had an injury in the summer and then had another injury and had to have a little surgery, so he's been battling that. We're very proud of him, he's fought hard, and he looked good out there today."
In addition to the team's 36 assists, Tech also racked up 48 rebounds, 10 steals, and hit 13 triples. The purple and gold accounted for 62 points in the paint, 34 fast-break points, and 60 points off the bench.
Tech will hit the road to wrap up the 2021 calendar year with a pair of contests in Ohio, starting with a Saturday showdown against Wright State at 1:00 p.m. CT in Dayton. The Golden Eagles then return to the state of Ohio for a Tuesday bout with Cincinnati at 6:00 p.m.
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