By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. – A last-second jumper caught the front iron and bounced off the backboard as the Tennessee Tech men's basketball team dropped a heartbreaker at SIUE Saturday afternoon, falling by a final score of 61-60 in First Community Arena.
Trailing by as many as 12 points at halftime, the Golden Eagles (7-19, 4-9) fought and clawed their way back with a strong showing out of the gates to start the second stanza. After being held to just 19 points on 25.8 percent shooting over the opening 20 minutes, Tech burst out of the gate, quickly pulling to within a bucket and eventually tying things up with just over 10 minutes to play.
"I thought in the first half that our defense was okay, Tech head coach John Pelphrey said. "Our offense was not. Eight turnovers and we didn't finish some plays. We were a little bit stagnant too, just standing around. In the second half, we came back and battled. We had 41 points and our defense was even better than it was in the first."
The purple and gold went on to take a five-point lead after a big 3-pointer from Shandon Goldman and a following layup on an offensive rebound by John Pettway, but the Cougars (9-17, 3-10) answered right back and never let Tech go up by more than three again. Both sides traded numerous leads down the stretch, but things looked up for the purple and gold late.
With just under two minutes to play, SIUE took a 59-58 lead. Both sides traded possessions, with neither able to secure a bucket and Tech taking over with 40 seconds to play after a shot clock violation by the Cougars. Pettway made a spectacular play in the paint to hit a layup and draw a foul with 33 seconds to go, giving the Golden Eagles a 60-59 lead.
His free throw would miss the target and with 15 seconds left on the clock, the Cougars executed a play that resulted in a two-handed slam for the 61-60 advantage. Following a Golden Eagle timeout, Pettway got into the lane and looked clear on his way to a go-ahead layup, but two SIUE defenders closed in and combined to block the attempt.
A pair of Tech fouls sent the Cougars to the line for a 1-and-1 free throw attempt, which the home squad subsequently missed. Pettway hauled in the rebound and drove down the court and into the lane, making a quick pass behind him to an open Goldman. The forward let loose a jumper as time expired, but the shot just missed short and SIUE walked away with the victory.
"It came down to the last couple of possessions," Pelphrey explained. "I thought we executed really well from an offensive perspective there and got some shots. The thing you don't want to do is not get a shot or turn it over, and we didn't do that. The execution was good, we just didn't finish the plays."
Pettway turned in the best performance of his Golden Eagle career, following up a 16-point, nine-rebound showing at Eastern Illinois on Thursday with an even better line on Saturday. The graduate transfer notched his first double-double in the purple and gold, producing a game-high 18 points and team-best 10 rebounds while also dishing out a pair of assists and snagging three steals.
Goldman came off the bench to contributed 10 points and four rebounds, with several of his makes coming in critical moments in the ball game. Jr Clay added 10 points to the mix while accounting for a team-high five assists. Amadou Sylla turned in another strong night as well, scoring seven points and corralling nine boards with a pair of blocks.
"John has been doing a really good job for us from a leadership standpoint," Pelphrey expressed. "He brings a toughness to us with ball handling and finishing plays. He did a lot of that tonight. Obviously, Biggie [Goldman] has had a real impact here the past couple of games on the road and I'm just really proud of him for staying with it. Tonight, he was able to make a couple of shots, but he also had like four offensive rebounds and did a good job for us defensively. I'm proud of our senior guy stepping up."
Tech will finally get back to a sense of normalcy next week, playing a typical Thursday and Saturday Ohio Valley Conference schedule for the first time in a month after competing in four-straight Monday contests as make-ups from the effects of COVID-19. The Golden Eagles will return home to host Southeast Missouri in a 7:30 p.m. CT tilt Thursday before visiting Austin Peay on Saturday for their final road game of the season in a 4:00 p.m. match-up with the Govs.
"The team is getting ready for the last two weeks of the season and the last four games," Pelphrey said. "There's still room for growth for us and some opportunities out there. I think we are continuing to get better."
File photo by Jim Dillon