By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. – It came down to the wire, but the Tennessee Tech men's basketball team made it four wins in five games Saturday evening, edging in-state rival Austin Peay in Clarksville by a final score of 73-69 for another critical victory in Ohio Valley Conference play.
"Defense was the way, to steal a line from the Mandalorian," Tech head coach John Pelphrey said. "I'm just really proud of these guys. There's been a lot going on physically since we've played our last game and we had some adversity coming down here. I just loved our demeanor, attitude, body language, and calmness."
The Golden Eagles (9-19, 6-9) came out the gate firing on cylinders, shooting 57.1 percent from the floor and taking as much as a 16-point lead with just over four minutes to play in the first half. The Govs (10-16, 6-10) rallied a bit to close the opening stanza, but Tech took a 39-31 lead into the locker room.
Austin Peay erupted offensively to open the second half, using a 13-3 run over the first three minutes to jump on top at 44-42. Veteran Jr. Clay responded with four straight points, however, putting Tech back on top for much of the rest of the period.
Tech expanded that advantage out to nine midway through the period, but another late surge from Peay saw the Clarksville squad take a 67-66 lead with just over two minutes to play. Graduate transfer John Pettway flipped the script for the Golden Eagles, working his way into the paint and converting an old-fashioned three-point play to put Tech back on top for good.
"We had to withstand a flurry of good play from them," Pelphrey explained. "We always have to deal with our mistakes and ourselves and not let those things take us to the wrong place. I'm so proud of these guys for a hard-fought win on the road. We kept them from scoring 70 and eclipsed the 70-point mark with a good shooting percentage from the floor. These guys deserve a lot of credit. Four-out-of-five. That's really good."
Pettway, who continued his incredible play of late by dropping a season and game-high 22 points, scored each of Tech's final seven points down the stretch, hitting clutch free throws to seal the deal. He hit 7-of-8 shots from the floor and 7-of-9 attempts at the charity stripe while tying for the team lead with seven rebounds.
Clay enjoyed another big performance off the bench as well, contributing 16 points on 6-for-10 shooting while playing a game-high 36 minutes. Kenny White Jr. also finished in double figures, producing 10 points with seven boards and three steals. Keishawn Davidson led the game with seven assists.
"I think as a collective group of guys, the leadership really showed through, especially the willingness to continue to compete when we're down some of the guys we are and have some of the other guys go through foul trouble," Pelphrey expressed. "Our guards really did a great job on that backboard. We don't really practice like that, with five guards out on the floor at one time."
Tech won the battle on the glass, owning a 39-32 advantage while holding the Govs to just 33.3 percent shooting in the ball game. The Golden Eagles also converted 17-of-23 tries from the free-throw line, shooting 73.9 percent.
"These guys deserve so much credit for picking up the win tonight," Pelphrey added. "We're not done yet. We're going to have more challenges. All this does is get our opponents' attention. We're not going to sneak up on anybody. We're going to get their best shot."
With the win, the purple and gold climbed up to sixth in the OVC standings and clinched its first berth to the league's postseason tournament in Evansville, Ind. since the 2017-18 campaign.
The Golden Eagles head home to wrap up the regular season, playing host to in-state foe Tennessee State on Thursday in a 7:30 p.m. CT tilt in the Hooper Eblen Center. Tech then concludes things with another 7:30 p.m. affair on Saturday against in-state rival UT Martin.
Photo by Thomas Corhern