By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – It was a crushing finish to a well-fought battle for the Tennessee Tech men's basketball team Saturday night, as in-state rival Belmont hit a 3-pointer with under five seconds to play in regulation and force overtime in the Hooper Eblen Center. The Bruins (19-5, 9-2) went on to defeat the Golden Eagles (5-18, 2-8) in the extra period, 100-92.
After leading by as many as 20 points in the second half, the Golden Eagles couldn't hold off the Bruins down the stretch, as Ben Sheppard hit a tough, contested attempt from distance to square the contest 84-84 with 3 seconds to play. Belmont went on to open overtime with a 9-0 run, taking the two teams' final match-up in Ohio Valley Conference play before it departs for the Missouri Valley Conference in 2022-23.
"I'm certainly very proud of our guys and how they competed," Tech head coach John Pelphrey said. "I thought they played really, really well. It came down to an unbelievable shot by Ben Sheppard there at the end of regulation. You have to give a lot of credit to Belmont. They hung in there and kept battling. We forced them to go to a zone, which is something they do not normally do, because we were doing so well with our offense."
Tech outscored the Bruins 52-37 in the first half, opening a 20-point advantage at one point behind 63.9 percent shooting from the floor on the power of 15 assists. The Golden Eagles also held Belmont to just 39.3 percent shooting, including a 29.4 percent showing from distance, over the opening 20 minutes.
A 10-for-11 showing from the charity stripe kept the visitors within a stone's throw in the first half while Tech hit one of only two tries to open the game. That trend continued in the second half, as the Bruins hit 11 out of 15 more attempts from the line while Tech took advantage of its limited opportunities at 5-for-6. Belmont added eight more makes on nine tries in overtime.
"I'm very proud of our team," Pelphrey expressed. "I think we're getting better. Those guys put their hearts on the line. It's a very tough and devastating thing to go through, when you play that well and you're not able to finish it off. It's also a part of competition and a part of life; getting disappointed and having to figure out to deal with that, lean on each other, stay together, be a family, and bounce back."
Sheppard led the visitors with 41 points, sinking a whopping 14-of-17 attempts at the charity stripe. Nick Muszynski added 33 points, also taking advantage of a long night at the free-throw line with 11 conversions on 13 attempts.
"We're in this stretch here of playing so many games in such a short period of time, it's hard to find fault with the guys," Pelphrey explained. "I thought they gave great effort, I thought they were competitive, I thought they tried to play the right way, and I thought they kept playing."
Kenny White Jr. paced the purple and gold with 16 points, sinking three triples and hauling in a pair of rebounds. Keishawn Davidson recorded his second double-double of the year and fourth of his career with 14 points and a career-high 11 assists. He also snagged three steals.
Jr. Clay scored 14 points off the bench, sinking four treys, collecting six rebounds, and dishing out seven dimes with two steals. Diante Wood was efficient with 12 points on 6-for-8 shooting while Mamoudou Diarra made it five Golden Eagles in double figures with 11 points and five boards on 3-for-5 shooting from downtown.
Amadou Sylla scored eight points with six boards while John Pettway tallied eight with five boards and five assists. Daniel Ramsey chipped in nine points and seven boards despite playing just a little over 16 minutes due to foul trouble.
"We are growing and getting better," Pelphrey said. "We're showing mental and physical toughness to continue to show up and compete during a time that's just not normal. This is not normal, playing three games a week for a month.
"It'll be a huge challenge for us to deal with this tonight, show back up tomorrow, try to collect our thoughts, and get us in the right frame of mind to play against EIU who is coming in here to look to win. They're getting better as well. We have seven more games I believe. That's a lot of basketball."
The Golden Eagles will kick off their third straight week with three games, playing host to Eastern Illinois Monday evening at 6:00 p.m. CT. Tech will then return the trip to Charleston, Ill. on Thursday, squaring off with the Panthers at 7:30 p.m. The purple and gold round out the week with a Feb. 12 tilt at SIUE at 3:30 p.m.
Photo by Jim Dillon