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Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles

Late Tech push falls short against unbeaten Racers

Late Tech push falls short against unbeaten Racers

By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – A close battle from wire-to-wire, the Tennessee Tech men's basketball game couldn't quite pull off the upset of undefeated and longtime Ohio Valley Conference rival Murray State Thursday evening, as the Golden Eagles (5-14, 2-4) fell to the Racers (19-2, 9-0) in the Hooper Eblen Center, 80-75.

Squaring off in the two teams' final regular-season match-up as league foes – Murray State is set to join the Missouri Valley Conference for the 2022-23 season – it was a back-and-forth rematch that proved that Monday's tilt between the two squads was an anomaly. The Racers took that battle with relative ease, besting the purple and gold in Murray by a final score of 79-53.

The Golden Eagles looked like a completely different team in Cookeville Thursday evening, taking the league-leading Racers to the wire and providing their rival with one of its closest calls in OVC play this season. Tech shot 54.2 percent from the floor, dominating with 52 points in the paint, 20 points on the fast break, and 29 points off the bench.

"I'm proud of our basketball team," Tech head coach John Pelphrey said. "We did not give our best effort up in Kentucky on Monday and you have to give Murray a lot of credit for that. They're playing better than anyone else in our league. They have some very good players that are very well-coached. We certainly respect their tradition and history, but we wanted to come out here and play better.

"One of the areas we wanted to better in was shot quality. I think it was better tonight. We had 32 field goals in a college basketball game. That's a big number. We had 21 assists again. There were a lot of things going right out there from an offensive perspective."

After taking a four-point lead midway through the first half, Tech saw the Racers use their high-octane offense to open a 10-0 run and take their largest advantage of the half at 34-25. Rather than give in, the Golden Eagles doubled down on defense and used the effort to end the half on an 11-0 run of their own. Hitting each of its final five shots of the half, Tech entered the locker room with a 36-34 lead.

"One or two turnovers, a bad shot here or there, or just not converting more; it makes a big difference in a highly contested basketball game," Pelphrey explained. "Something else we wanted to look at from Monday were turnovers, because that allowed them to get out on the break. They were outstanding on the break up there. I thought we did a better job here, but you almost have to be on point with these guys, because you make a mistake. Tevin Brown stepped up and made a couple of big shots. You always have to be alert for Justice Hill.

"But another big area we needed to show up and compete was on the backboard. We didn't do a good job of that up there. KJ Williams, especially, was just a lot to handle. He had another good night tonight, but he was a completely dominant player on the offensive glass [on Monday] and we did a better job there this evening, even though it needs to be better."

Despite the improvement from Monday, it was the battle on the boards that proved the difference in the second half on Thursday, as the Racers earned an 18-9 edge, hauling in seven rebounds on the offensive end of the floor. The contest almost seemed out of reach with just over 90 seconds to play when Murray State took its largest lead of the night at 11 points. That extended to the 56-second mark, but Tech continued to grind.

John Pettway went the length of the floor and hit a floater in the lane to cut it to single digits. A missed free throw gave Tech another chance and Jr. Clay converted with a huge triple to make it a six-point game. After a pair of freebies by the Racers, Keishawn Davidson took his turn hitting a big shot, draining his own bucket from distance to cut the deficit to five. It marked the final bucket of the night, with the Racers holding on for the win.

"We had five guys in double figures," Pelphrey said of what went well on the night. "It was good to have John Pettway out there and bouncing back from an injury. It was great to have Diante back who's been out for a minute with an injury. Those guys are incredible leaders. They have the love, admiration, and respect of their teammates. They're both captains and they let us coach them in every facet of the game and never challenge authority. They just do their job and they're unbelievable role models."

Wood was spectacular in his return to the hardwood after missing the previous three games, going a perfect 6-for-6 from the floor and 2-for-2 from the charity stripe. He tied his season-high with 14 points and added a game-high three steals. Pettway dished out five assists with six points on 3-for-4 shooting, gathering a steal of his own.

Forward Mamoudou Diarra led the purple and gold with 15 points on 6-for-12 shooting, chipping in a block and two steals. Clay produced 13 points off the bench, converting on 60 percent of his attempts while dishing out a trio of dimes.

Kenny White Jr. and Daniel Ramsey each compiled 10 points, with Ramsey 5-for-6 from the floor with two assists and three boards. White hauled in four rebounds and produced two assists. Davidson accumulated seven assists and four boards with zero turnovers and five points.

Tech will stay put in the Eblen Center, playing host to in-state foe Austin Peay in the second half of a Saturday doubleheader. Tip is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. CT and represents the second contest in a home stretch that sees the Golden Eagles in Cookeville for five out of six games.

Photo by Jim Dillon

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