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Tech cruises past Austin Peay, advances to OVC Tournament quarterfinal against Morehead

Tech cruises past Austin Peay, advances to OVC Tournament quarterfinal against Morehead

By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information

EVANSVILLE, Ind. – For the first time since 2018, the Tennessee Tech men's basketball team tasted the sweet flavor of postseason victory, as the Golden Eagles (11-20) dominated in-state rival Austin Peay in the first round of the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament Wednesday evening, 78-51.

"We have a lot of respect for Austin Peay," Tech head coach John Pelphrey said. "Nate [James] has done an unbelievable job with his basketball team in year one. We've had two really good battles with them this year and I think when you slam the two games together, it couldn't be any closer. I think we were ahead by one."

Taking part in its first OVC Tournament action since 2018 as well, the purple and gold took advantage of its final meeting against the Governors (12-17) as league foes, with No. 7 seeded Austin Peay making the switch to the Atlantic Sun Conference next season. Tech found a groove defensively in the first half and used it create transition offense that propelled the team to the quarterfinals and a match-up with No. 3 Morehead State.

"I was concerned coming into the game a little bit," Pelphrey expressed, "about how these guys might respond being in the postseason for the first time, but I guess they showed all of us how they're going to respond. They responded like they've been through it and like they've been here before."

The two sides battled back-and-forth early on in the contest, with the Govs using an 11-0 run to rally back from down six to up five with just under 12 minutes to play in the first half. Tech cut the deficit to just two before the next media timeout and never looked back.

Riding the sweet-shooting stroke of graduate forward Shandon Goldman, the Golden Eagles responded to Austin Peay's run with a massive stretch of offense of their own. Tech dropped 18 straight over the next five-and-a-half minutes, pushing back out in front by 13. At the break, the Cookeville crew held a 38-26 advantage, thanks in large part to four makes from distance by "Biggie" Goldman.

"We prepared really hard and knew it would be a hard-fought basketball game," Pelphrey explained. "The score doesn't indicate how hard it was. I thought their team competed the whole way through and really challenged our backcourt in the second half. They made some runs to end the first half and made some more in the second half, but every time they did, our guys responded.

"They kept staying together. I thought our leadership; our toughness was spectacular. Biggie got us off to a great start. We couldn't be more proud of him. He had some personal things going on about two weeks ago and all he did was double down on his commitment to this basketball team and his teammates. Good things happen to good people and we're proud of him."

In the second half, it was more of the same with the defense creating offensive opportunities. Tech never allowed the Govs to pull back within single digits, expanding its advantage to as much as the 27-point final thanks in large part to the efforts of Keishawn Davidson and John Pettway.

Pettway scored all 13 of his points in the second half, finishing a perfect 6-for-6 from the field while tacking on six rebounds. Davidson was the man in charge for the Golden Eagles, however, exploding for a game-high 20 points and seven assists on 9-for-14 shooting.

Goldman connected on one more triple in the second half, concluding the night with 15 points, all from beyond the arc, and seven boards. Kenny White Jr. flirted with a double-double, settling for 10 points and a team-high tying eight rebounds. Diante Wood chipped in nine points on 4-for-6 efficiency.

Four-year guard Jr. Clay, named to the All-OVC Second Team for the fourth straight year prior to the tournament, scored nine points off the bench while also hauling in eight boards and dishing out three assists. On the night, he became just the second player in program history to record 400 points in four different seasons, joining all-time leading scorer Earl Wise in the exclusive club.

"Nobody has worked harder than Keishawn since he's been here," Pelphrey explained. "He was just a leader and was in control the whole night with a calm mind. He was aggressive and just had that whole thing of patience and poise, but always in attack mode. And it just goes around the room. Jr. had a tough night shooting the ball, but made some plays. John did as well, but they both showed up in the second half when it got really hard and got us some easy baskets."

As a team, the Golden Eagles shot an impressive 53.3 percent from the floor and 42.9 percent from 3-point range. Tech held Austin Peay to just 30.1 percent shooting from the field and a paltry 11.1 percent from downtown. TTU edged the Govs on the glass, 43-42, and turned in 38 points in the paint for a 14-point advantage.

"I thought the defense from start to finish for us was as good as we've had all year long," Pelphrey said. "Defense is the way for us. If we can defend, these guys have gotten really good on the fast break. They advance it, they share it, and then they score. For me, that was kind of the game."

The purple and gold will square off with Morehead State Thursday evening in the quarterfinals of the OVC Tournament, with tip set for approximately 9:00 p.m. CT in the Ford Center in Evansville, Ind. Tech fell to the Eagles in back-to-back games at the end of January and beginning of February, right in the midst of playing three games a week for four straight weeks due to COVID-19 make-up games.

Photo by Thomas Corhern

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