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Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles

Late push gives Tech men back-to-back wins over Panthers

Late push gives Tech men back-to-back wins over Panthers

By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information

CHARLESTON, Ill. – For the second straight game, the Tennessee Tech men's basketball team earned a wire-to-wire win over Ohio Valley Conference foe Eastern Illinois, besting the Panthers (4-20, 2-9) in Lantz Arena, 73-62, Thursday evening in a rematch from Monday's tilt in Cookeville.

But unlike Monday's affair in the Hooper Eblen Center, this victory came with significantly more resistance. After cruising to a 26-point at home just three days prior, Tech (7-18, 4-8) looked well on its way to replicating its impressive showing in the first meeting between the two league foes, erupting out of the gates for a 30-7 lead more than halfway through the opening stanza.

"We got off to a great start and the ball just continued to move," Tech head coach John Pelphrey said. "I was really surprised. I think there in the first half we got more points in and around the basket than we did the whole game at home. We were very fortunate to make 14 threes [on Monday]. I was really encouraged at 30-7, but then with about five minutes ago, I don't know, I think the guys thought it was going to be easy."

Behind a tenacious defense, the Panthers started creating turnovers and finally began to hit on some shot attempts from the floor, inching their way back from the 23-point deficit to make it a 14-point game at the break. Tech led 40-26 behind a 54.8 percent showing from the floor and 4-for-10 performance from distance.

"We started missing a few layups" Pelphrey explained. "We missed a couple of dunk opportunities. And then, uncharacteristically for us here in the last little bit, we had nine turnovers in the first half. You shoot 54 percent in the first half and 63 percent in the second half, that [the turnovers] really allows for a comeback. That's something we really have to learn from because it didn't get any better in the second half. We had 10."

Picking up its intensity on the defensive end of the floor, Eastern Illinois' pressure continued to create problems for the purple and gold, helping the home team creep back closer and make it a six-point ball game at 16:02 mark of the second half. Veteran guard Jr. Clay answered by burying a triple and then driving in for a transitional layup on the ensuing possession, forcing an EIU timeout with the Tech lead back out to 11.

The Golden Eagles extended things back to 16 over the next four minutes, but the Panthers proved their resilience, clawing back all the way to a one-bucket ball game at 58-55 with just under six minutes to play. A quick timeout from Pelphrey gave the Tech squad a quick chance to chat things over and regroup.

Immediately out of the break, Amadou Sylla made a nifty, turnaround jumper in the paint to make it a two-possession lead. He snagged a defensive board and Clay came right back down the court and drilled another trey to move thing back out to eight. Following a layup by the Panthers with under four to play, Shandon Goldman hit a dagger from the corner with three minutes to play, dropping a triple to move the lead out to nine for the Cookeville crew.

"We're very fortunate to get out of here with a victory, but when it got its hardest in the second half, I thought the veteran players stepped up," Pelphrey added. "Jr. Clay had a 5-0 run there when they got it back to six. I think that group with Biggie Goldman got it back up to 16 and then we subbed a little bit and didn't do so well. They got it back down to three and we just had to kind of inch our way back out. Amadou Sylla had his hands in and all over that, even from an offensive perspective. I think he cashed in a couple of free throws and made a post move there."

Just eight Golden Eagles saw the floor on the night, but each managed to score at least once and haul in at least two rebounds, accounting for another total team effort. Five Tech hoopers notched double-figures in the scoring column, led by Clay for the second night in-a-row.

The Chattanooga native contributed a team-high 15 points on 6-for-9 shooting, passing Anthony Avery for eighth on the Golden Eagles' all-time scoring list. He drilled a trio of makes from beyond the arc while adding four assists.

John Pettway, who was instrumental in Tech's initial mammoth lead from the moment the game tipped, poured in 12 points on the night, all in the first half. The graduate transfer also hauled in a game-high nine rebounds and accounted for a pair of steals.

Keishawn Davidson dished out a game-best six assists while chipping 10 points and five boards. Sylla chipped in 10 points off the bench on a perfect 4-for-4 efficiency from the floor and added seven rebounds. Kenny White Jr. put together 10 points with a couple of makes from distance as well.

"I'm very, very proud," Pelphrey expressed. "I have a good amount of admiration for what these guys did because nothing has been normal. We're in our fourth week coming out of COVID playing three games a week. I know what the score was at home and I know what their [EIU] record is, but they're working hard, they want to do well too, and they have pride in their performance. I knew it was going to be hard tonight. I'm just glad we were able to make some plays down the stretch and close out the basketball game the right way."

A 3:30 p.m. CT tilt at SIUE will wrap up the Illinois road trip for the Golden Eagles on Saturday. Tech will square off with the Cougars for the second this season as part of a doubleheader with both schools' women's teams, beginning at 1:00 p.m. The purple and gold will look to claim its third straight win for the first time since the 2017-18 campaign.

Photo courtesy of Sandy King, EIU Athletics

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