By Jonathan Caudle, TTU Sports Information
MOREHEAD, Ky. – Tennessee Tech senior forward Anacia Wilkinson tied the Tech single-game record for blocks in a game, in addition to tying her season-high of 16 points as she led the Golden Eagles (9-4, 2-0 OVC) to a decisive 75-55 victory over Morehead State (5-9, 1-1 OVC) on Saturday afternoon inside Johnson Arena.
"Our staff is tremendously proud of the toughness, maturity and focus our team showed against a Morehead team that has had our number for the last several years," expressed head coach Kim Rosamond. "Coach Walls (assistant coach) did a phenomenal job on the scouting report with a very quick turnaround. She did her job at an elite level, and it allowed our players to play at an elite level. They executed the game plan about as well as we could expect."
The Golden Eagles have won five-straight contests since their matchup against Western Carolina on Dec. 17, including a pair of victories over Eastern Kentucky and Morehead State to open conference play.
In addition to her nine blocks and season-best 16 points, Wilkinson collected six boards, dished out a pair of assists, and collected a steal. She shot 6-of-11 from the field and a perfect 4-of-4 from the free throw line.
"Our seniors led this team today," said Rosamond. "Naci produced in every category. She knocked down shots, grabbed rebounds, finished at the free throw line, and was a rim protector. Almost every time someone drove by us, she was there to block the shot. Akia was a floor general and was a workhorse on the defensive end. She put her teammates in a position to shine all day, and that is what great point guards do. Overall, this was a very balanced performance. We had four players in double figures, outstanding play from our bench, and a commitment to defending for 40 minutes. The only area we didn't meet our goal was keeping them off the glass, and we need to find consistency rebounding the basketball moving forward regardless of our opponent."
Three other Golden Eagles tallied double-figure performances in the win with freshman Maaliya Owens knocking down 14 points, junior forward Mackenzie Coleman recording 13 points, and junior Jordan Brock scoring 11 points. Freshman Jada Guinn led the Golden Eagles on the glass with a team-high seven rebounds, while also recording nine points, and senior Akia Harris dished out a team-high six assists in the win.
As a team, the Golden Eagles shot 44 percent (27-of-61) from the field, 42 percent (8-of-19) from 3-point range, and 72 percent (13-of-18) from the free throw line in the contest. The Golden Eagles shared the ball well, dishing out 10 more assists than Morehead (17-7), as well as dominating the post, nearly doubling the Eagles in total blocks, 10-6.
"Every player on our bench played a part in this win," stated Rosamond. "We had players step up yesterday in practice and do a great job simulating Morehead's offense, and that preparation resulted in holding them to 55 points. Our players who came off the bench gave us a huge spark with a combined 27 points, and our starters played with confidence and poise. That is what a true team looks like, everyone rolling up their sleeves and doing their jobs regardless of who gets the credit. I love the unselfishness of our players right now. If we can continue that mindset, good things can happen."
Morehead State got on the board first from a layup and a free throw to take an early 3-0 lead. However, it was short-lived as Anacia Wilkinson responded with a pair of jumpers to score four-straight and give Tech its first lead of the contest less than two minutes into the game, a lead that the Golden Eagles would not relinquish. Tech closed the opening frame on an 8-6 run to take a 12-9 lead.
The Golden Eagles continued to extend the advantage with hot shooting in the second period. Tech outscored the Eagles 26-12, shooting 50 percent (10-of-20) from the floor and 66.7 percent (4-of-6) from long-range, over the final 10 minutes of the opening half to take a commanding 17-point advantage into the locker room, 38-21.
Tech maintained their momentum into the third period as Morehead State couldn't find an answer to the Golden Eagles offensive success, leading to a 20-point Tech advantage heading into the final quarter of play.
The two teams matched each other point for point over the final 10 minutes as Tech rode its 20-point advantage to the 75-55 victory.
"Our team was on a mission to do something different today," said Rosamond. "This program hasn't won at Morehead since 2013, and this is just another hill we had to climb in order to continue to elevate Tech women's basketball back to the level it belongs. I am proud of this group for taking another positive step in our process, but I am most proud to be leaving this road trip 2-0. That is hard to do, and our players deserve all the credit."
The win snapped a six-game losing streak for Tech against the Eagles of Morehead State, which dated back to Feb. 17, 2016 when the Golden Eagles handed Morehead State a 77-69 defeat in Cookeville. It was also the first time Tech has defeated the Eagles on their home court since Feb. 16, 2016, which ended in an 84-70 Tech victory.
"We will enjoy this win for the next 24 hours and come back Monday and go back to work" said Rosamond. "Austin Peay is one of the best teams in our league. They will be in the hunt for a championship this season, and they will come into Cookeville with a vengeance. This is a nationally televised game that tips off at 4 pm, and we need this community to come out in full force to support our players. Women's basketball matters in the Upper Cumberland, and we have a great opportunity to showcase Tennessee Tech women's basketball against a tough opponent on a national stage. We need the Hoop to be full of purple and gold at 4 p.m. on Thursday."
The Golden Eagles return to Cookeville on Thursday for their nationally televised home-opener, hosting Austin Peay at 4 p.m. on ESPNU and 106.1 The Eagle.
Photo by Thomas Corhern