By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – The offense was cooking and the defense did its job Thursday evening, as the Tennessee Tech men's basketball team cruised to a 94-76 victory over Ohio Valley Conference foe SIUE, claiming victory in its first home contest in 35 days.
It marked back-to-back home wins for the Golden Eagles, whose most recent tilt in the Hooper Eblen Center came all the way back on Dec. 16, 2021, a 117-60 decision over Montreat College. The triumph also moved Tech's record against the Cougars in the Eblen Center to an impressive 6-1 all-time.
"It was a big win for us and we're very excited about that," Tech head coach John Pelphrey said. "We did not play particularly well in our last game. We were a little disappointed in our performance, top-to-bottom, coaches and players."
The purple and gold moved the basketball at an elite level on the night, dishing out 27 assists, the fourth time this season eclipsing the 25-dime mark. The passing effort led to a markedly efficient night shooting the basketball, with the home squad hitting 50.8 percent from the field, a whopping 56 percent from distance, and a very solid 82.4 percent from the charity stripe.
"It's always good to see a group of young men and individuals respond to a night they weren't particularly happy with," Pelphrey expressed. "And that's what happened tonight. It was one of our better performances since we've been here, just in terms of the way everybody shot the basketball. There were 27 assists in a conference game, which is outstanding. And I think that SIUE is a really good basketball team. I think they're well-coached, they have good players. It's always fun when the ball goes in the basket."
Both sides traded blows early in the contest, with SIUE taking a 19-18 lead with 12:11 to play in the first half. Following a media timeout, the Golden Eagle dug in their claws and went to work. The result was a 14-0 run for the Cookeville crew, one that resulted in a 32-19 advantage and an eventual 16-point lead at the break.
"I thought [John] Pettway got us off to a fast start in the first four or five minutes, driving the ball and moving it," Pelphrey explained. "I thought Jr. [Clay] came off the bench and that may have been one of the best halves of basketball he's played since we've been here. He was really explosive off the bounce, getting by his man and getting off the pick and roll coverage, and moving the ball as well. It just gets contagious when everyone starts seeing that ball go through the basket and makes the game easier for each other. We wanted to play defense, give effort, and share the ball on offense. I have to give it to the guys, they did that tonight."
Pettway produced a season-high seven assists in the contest, adding eight points and a pair of steals while finishing a perfect 4-for-4 on the night. Clay tied his season-high production in scoring, dropping 20 points, five dimes, and four steals while shooting 7-for-12 with a 3-for-5 mark from downtown.
Returning freshman Kenny White Jr. led the scoring effort in the contest, dropping 23 points on 8-for-13 shooting and a 4-for-6 performance from beyond the arc. He added five rebounds and a pair of assists. Keishawn Davidson flirted with a double-double, producing 10 points with eight helpers and five rebounds without a turnover.
Daniel Ramsey contributed eight points and seven rebounds, as well as a thunderous, two-handed slam through traffic. Mamoudou Diarra posted eight points in limited action while Amadou Sylla contributed eight of his own off the bench.
"I think we're scratching the surface of how good we can be defensively," Pelphrey said. "We like both man and zone. We've got to just become consistent with performances like this, from half to half and possession to possession. We're already becoming a very good team on the fast break. That's the exciting thing for our basketball team. This was a great night, but I think there's room for improvement. Not that we're going to score 94 points every night, or get 27 assists, or make 14 threes, but we can grow and continue to become an even better defensive basketball team, which always makes it easier to score on the fast break."
Tech blocked five shots and collected 12 steals against the Cougars, forcing 17 turnovers that resulted in 23 points. The Golden Eagles also produced 20 points on fast-break opportunities.
The Golden Eagles will return to action with a road tilt at Murray State on Monday evening. Tech will tip with the Racers at 7:00 p.m. CT in Murray, Ky. in a make-up contest from January 1 when the original match-up was postponed due to COVID-19 protocols.
Photo by Jim Dillon