By Jonathan Caudle, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee Tech women's basketball struggled to overcome a tough second quarter as it fell 86-65 against the UT Martin Skyhawks on Thursday evening inside the Hooper Eblen Center.
"The last three weeks have really challenged our team," expressed head coach Kim Rosamond. "We are having to battle through a very tough stretch and learn how to not only handle but find a way when adversity hits in games. Tonight, it hit in the second quarter when we went 3-of-13 and just could not score. In those moments, we have to find our identity on the defensive end. That's the difference between where we were three weeks ago, and where we are now. When we hit difficult stretches on the offensive end, we aren't buckling down and getting stops. Empty possessions are turning into points too many times for our opponents. This game was lost in the second quarter when we got outscored 20-7."
Tech drops to 17-9 overall and 10-5 in conference play, while UT Martin improves to 17-9 on the season and 13-2 in conference play.
Three Golden Eagles recorded double-figure performances with freshman Maaliya Owens leading the way with a team-high 15 points, shooting 5-of-11 from the field, 3-of-7 from 3-point range, and a perfect 2-of-2 from the line. She added four rebounds and dished out three assists. Juniors Mackenzie Coleman and Abby Buckner, the Golden Eagles' Special Olympics Player of the Game, joined Owens in double-figures, netting 14 points and 11 points, respectively. Buckner added a team-high five rebounds, while senior Anacia Wilkinson blocked a game-high three shots in the contest.
"Abby Buckner was a fighter tonight," said Rosamond. "I thought she worked extremely hard on both ends of the floor. Her effort, focus, and toughness were a big positive, and I thought she shot the ball well. Maaliya Owens came off the bench and gave us a huge lift, and I thought in the second half Mackenzie was the presence we needed in the paint."
The Skyhawks opened the contest on a 9-0 run over the first four minutes of play to take an early lead. Tech responded with a four-minute run of its own to outscore UT Martin 13-6 to cut the Skyhawks lead down to two with two minutes remaining in the opening period. Chelsey Perry scored a layup to push the lead back to two, but a pair of free throws from Maaliya Owens closed out the first to bring the Golden Eagles back within two heading into the second, 17-15.
The Golden Eagles continued the momentum into the second quarter, producing seven unanswered points, capped by a Kesha Brady 3-pointer, to take their largest lead of the contest at the 8:27 mark, 22-17. However, UT Martin locked Tech down over the final eight minutes of the quarter as the Skyhawks went on a 20-0 run to send the game into the locker room with the Golden Eagles at a 15-point deficit, 37-22.
Tech struggles offensively over the first 20 minutes of the contest, shooting 29 percent from the field, 25 percent from 3-point range, but netted a perfect 100 percent from the line. The Skyhawks shot 54 percent from the field, 30 percent from beyond the arc, and shot 80 percent from the free throw line. The Golden Eagles were able to make the Skyhawks commit one more turnover than they did, 10-9, but UT Martin capitalized on their opportunities to outscore Tech 18-6 off the changes in possession.
The Golden Eagles looked to turn the tides coming out of the locker room. UT Martin extended its lead to 17, 43-25, over the first two minutes of the second half before the Golden Eagles mounted a 9-2 rally to bring the game back within 10 at the 6:24 mark. The OVC's leader in scoring Chelsey Perry also picked up three quick fouls over the first two and a half minutes of the third period to enter foul trouble at four with a period and a half of basketball left to play. However, that didn't seem to phase the Skyhawks as they responded over the following five minutes of clock to kick the game back out to a 23-point deficit, 65-42, but freshman Jada Guinn connected with Mackenzie Coleman on a buzzer-beater to bring the game to 65-44 heading into the final 10 minutes of play.
The Skyhawks maintained their 21-point advantage through the first media timeout of the fourth quarter with 8:35 to play, 70-49. Tech produced a 10-7 run over the following four minutes of clock to cut into the Skyhawks lead and bring the game within 18 at the final media timeout of the contest, 77-59. However, the Golden Eagles just couldn't find an answer to the Skyhawks offensive game plan as UT Martin outscored Tech 9-6 over the final four minutes of play to eventually close the game at 86-65.
"We need to use this challenging end to our schedule as a positive," said Rosamond. "No one in this league is going to feel sorry for us that we finish the final month playing the top three teams in the league twice, along with Jacksonville who has been on a tear as of late. So, we have to find a way to use it to our advantage and turn it into a positive. These are all teams who will compete for a tournament championship in a few weeks, and we will have to go through them to be the last team standing in Evansville. I know right now it feels like we are a long way from being at that point, but we can use this difficult schedule as great preparation going into March. We need to take what we learned tonight, turn the page, and get ready for SEMO. We have to wake up tomorrow hungry and determined to get better and find a way to be consistent for four quarters. We have yet to do it against the top teams, but we have another opportunity on Saturday. We are working every day to put it together and we will continue to work until we do."
The Golden Eagles close out their 2019-20 home slate on Saturday, hosting Southeast Missouri for their annual Play4Kay game, as well as Senior Day. Tipoff is scheduled for 2 p.m. inside the Hoop.
Photo by Thomas Corhern