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Team effort lifts Golden Eagles past UT Martin for first OVC win

Team effort lifts Golden Eagles past UT Martin for first OVC win

By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information

MARTIN, Tenn. – A strong, second-half effort lifted the Tennessee Tech men's basketball team to its first Ohio Valley Conference victory of the year and first win on the road this season Thursday afternoon, as the Golden Eagles rallied from a double-digit deficit to down in-state rival UT Martin, 76-70 in the Elam Center.

"I'm just really proud of the guys," Tech head coach John Pelphrey said. "We feel like we've been really close trying to break through and tonight we did. This is a positive step. We have a long way to go and have to find a way to play 16 more of these, but we needed this. This was important. We showed enough resilience, toughness, and perseverance and it was good to break through."

The purple and gold secured its first win away from the Hooper Eblen Center since Feb. 20, 2020, using a total team effort to move to 1-1 in league play.

The Skyhawks were formidable in the first half, taking as large as a 12-point advantage in the opening stanza behind strong work on the glass. UT Martin shot 44.4 percent from the floor in the first half, taking a 42-36 advantage into the locker room.

"Certainly, we didn't get off to a great start," Pelphrey. "They really hurt us off the bounce. They were also quicker to the ball. I think they had 12 offensive rebounds in the first half. So we made some adjustments from a defensive perspective, trying to get a little more perimeter defense in and tried to get a little more rebounding in."

UT Martin nearly took a nine-point lead into the break, but veteran guard Jr. Clay buried a triple as time expired to make it a two-possession game. The shot seemed to reinvigorate the Tech squad, as the Golden Eagles came out on a mission in the second half, taking the lead within the first six minutes of the second stanza.

The two sides battled back and forth the rest of the way, with Tech never letting the Skyhawks take more than a five-point advantage. The purple and gold hit enough free throws down the stretch to ice the game, but it was the rebounding in the second half that really proved the difference-maker. Tech outworked UT Martin to the tune of a 27-15 advantage over the final 20 minutes, including a whopping difference of 11-3 on the offensive glass.

"In the second half, we made some adjustments with our lineup," Pelphrey expressed. "The other night at Belmont, you saw our newcomers get comfortable and grow. Tonight I thought it was our veteran players that really stepped up. Amadou Sylla was amazing tonight and I'm just really proud of him and his effort. John Pettway did a great job. They kind of had a game plan for Kenny White [Jr.], so we wanted him to sit and try to get a little look at the game. We brought him off the bench [in the second half] and he just really kept us going there offensively for a long period of time."

Big man Amadou Sylla produced at a season-high effort, posting his first double-double of the year with 11 points and 12 rebounds. The Bamako, Mali native hauled in six boards on the offensive glass alone and rejected three shots on the day. Pettway added seven points, six rebounds, and two steals off the bench.

White Jr. scored each of his team-leading 13 points in the second half, shooting 5-for-9 from the floor. The returning freshman racked up a career-high four steals while snagging four rebounds as well.

"When the guys got their opportunity, they really stepped up," Pelphrey explained. "Our younger players have really started to grow and develop like Daniel [Ramsey] and Kenny, but tonight the veteran guys really stepped up their performance and leadership. There's always gonna be some mental errors down the stretch and we'll have a chance to clean that up, but these guys really stepped up and performed. This was a team effort. This was everybody."

Clay tallied 10 points with four rebounds and two steals in the game while Keishawn Davidson chipped in eight points and two dimes. Dane Quest tied his career-high with nine points off the bench while Shandon Goldman scored eight.

"I'm just really proud of the guys for their resilience and toughness for what they've been through," Pelphrey said. "I still wasn't sure how this was going to look today from a conditioning standpoint. I think we had two practices, a day off, and played Belmont at the spur of the moment, which was much-needed. We would not have won today had we not had that exercise over there. I was still concerned tonight, but I think everyone playing and having a chance to have an impact also helped and will continue to moving forward. We won't have much of a chance to practice because we'll be playing every other day, hopefully."

The Golden Eagles will wrap up their three-game road swing Monday afternoon, heading back to Nashville for a 1:00 p.m. CT match-up with in-state rival Tennessee State. Tech will then host SIUE Thursday evening at 6:00 p.m. before returning to the road for a visit to Murray State the following Monday at 7:00 p.m.

Photo by Thomas Corhern

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