By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – A collective effort across the board propelled the Tennessee Tech men's basketball team to a huge win Monday evening, as the Golden Eagles (6-18, 3-8) rolled to an 84-58 victory over Eastern Illinois (4-19, 2-8) in the comfort of the Hooper Eblen Center.
Tech led wire-to-wire on the night, using a great flow on offense, devasting fast-break attack, and dominant showing on the glass to snap a six-game skid. The Golden Eagles outscored the Panthers 22-0 on the break and earned a whopping 37-23 advantage on the glass.
On top of that, the purple and gold shot 55.4 percent from the floor and a red-hot 50 percent from distance, sinking 14-of-28 tries. Tech also dished out 21 assists on the night, making it five wins in six games this season when doling out at least 20 dimes.
"I'm very, very proud of the guys," Pelphrey expressed. "They deserve so much credit. Nothing about their experience over the past couple of years has been normal. The pandemic has obviously changed everything. Now we're in a phase where not only did we get shut down, but we're in our last week of playing three games in a week and it's just not normal for college guys with having to go to school and travel. It's a lot.
"On top of that for us, five of our last seven games were against the top-three teams in our league. We didn't get any wins against those teams, but we learned a lot about ourselves. The game against Belmont the other day where we played really well, obviously Belmont made some plays as well, but that shot at the end of regulation; it's just tough to get over something like that."
Just two nights after watching the visiting Bruins rally from a 20-point deficit, force overtime with a last-second triple, and pull off an eight-point win, the Golden Eagles were able to put the crushing loss behind them. On Monday, Tech rolled right out of the gate, taking as large of a 31-point lead over Eastern Illinois late in the second half.
"For them to come back out less than 48 hours as a group and perform the way did, without being able to practice and it basically being all mental was special," Pelphrey said. "And they did do it as a group. It wasn't like one guy just stepped up and put the team on his back. Everybody had a hand in it. They deserve so much credit for their toughness, their resiliency, their togetherness, and their desire to be competitors. We're excited about lies ahead for us."
Four Golden Eagles scored in double figures during the night, paced by veteran guard Jr. Clay. The Chattanooga native poured in season-high 23 points while tying his career-best mark of six makes from beyond the arc on just eight tries. He also racked up four rebounds, three assists, and three steals.
During the night, Clay passed TTU Hall of Famer Jimmy Hagan for ninth on the program's all-time scoring list with 1,552 career points. He also passed Wayne Pack for fifth on the team's all-time assists list, totaling 423 dimes so far in his career.
Kenny White Jr. rack up a pair of career-highs in the contest as well, sinking 5-of-7 attempts from downtown and dishing out five dimes. He finished with 17 points while corralling a team-high seven rebounds.
Joining Clay and White Jr. in double figures, Mamoudou Diarra contributed 14 points while Keishawn Davidson chipped in 11. Davidson also led the purple and gold with eight assists to just a single turnover, making it 19 for the Golden Eagle in the past two games.
"With EIU, we understand about not playing so well one night, having a chance to look at it for a couple of days, maybe get a practice in, and then try it again," Pelphrey explained. "We actually played better against Murray the second time, better against Morehead the second time, and better against Belmont the second time. We expect nothing less from them up there.
"It will be a totally different basketball game with a whole new set of challenges. Anytime you go on the road you have to be 10 points better than your opponent, but we're looking forward to the challenge and are excited about our schedule moving forward here the rest of the way."
The Golden Eagles will hit the road for a rematch with the Panthers on Thursday, squaring off with EIU at 7:30 p.m. CT as part of doubleheader action in Charleston, Ill. Tech will then wrap up the road trip with a 3:30 p.m. tilt at SIUE on Saturday.
Photo by Jim Dillon