By Jonathan Caudle, TTU Sports Information
JACKSONVILLE, Ala. – Tennessee Tech women's basketball came up just short on its fourth-quarter rally, falling 64-61 at Jacksonville State on Saturday inside Pete Mathews Coliseum.
"I am proud of our kids. They battled and fought," said head coach Kim Rosamond. "This is a team that pounded us at home just a few games ago, and we put ourselves into position to win the game at the end tonight. You look across the stat sheet and we did a lot of good things. We outrebounded them by five, including holding them to only five offensive boards, and got to the free throw line 23 times. We defended really hard all night. The difference was we just didn't shoot the ball well enough to win."
The Golden Eagles fall to 17-12 on the season and 10-8 in OVC play, while Jacksonville State moved to 14-15 overall and 10-8 in conference action.
Anacia Wilkinson had a huge game, tying for a game-high, as well as a career-high, 19 points, shooting 50 percent (6-of-12) from the field and 78 percent (7-of-9) from the free throw line. She also flirted with a double-double, grabbing seven boards. Junior Abby Buckner led the Golden Eagles on the glass, pulling down a career-high 11 rebounds, while also netting six points, and dishing out a pair of assists. Junior Kesha Brady joined Wilkinson in double-figures, netting 11 points in the contest, while junior Mackenzie Coleman recorded seven points, a team-high two blocks, and two rebounds in the contest.
"Abby, Naci, and Mackenzie were huge for us today," said Rosamond. "Abby was a monster on the boards with 11 rebounds and hit two huge threes down the stretch. Naci also played extremely well. She was very efficient, tough, and finished in the paint. Mackenzie was another huge part of our post presence today. Our guards are doing a good job of getting the ball to our posts, and I think that has us going in a better direction offensively."
The Golden Eagles struck first on a Jada Guinn layup, but the Gamecocks battled to a 4-4 tie over the first three minutes of play. Jacksonville State took over the following four minutes of clock to mount a 10-3 run and take a seven-point advantage with 3:37 to play in the first. However, Tech immediately responded to close out the period on a 6-2 run to bring the game back within three after the first, 16-13.
Tech looked to even things up in the second quarter. Wilkinson drew a foul, knocking down both free throws, and followed it up with a layup to give the Golden Eagles their first lead since the 7:47 mark of the opening period, 17-16. Jacksonville State and Tech would exchange five-point runs to an eventual 23-23 tie with 6:21 remaining in the half. The Purple and Gold maintained the momentum to cap a 12-2 run and take a five-point lead at the 3:41 mark. The Gamecocks locked in over the final three minutes of play to hold Tech scoreless as they scored six unanswered, including a 33-second 3-pointer to take a one-point advantage into the locker room, 31-30.
Jacksonville State maintained the momentum into the third. The Gamecocks extended their lead to six to hold a 44-38 advantage at the media timeout. JSU knocked down another jump shot out of the break to lead by eight at the 4:11 mark, 46-38. The Gamecocks maintained their eight-point advantage matching the Golden Eagles offensive output to take a 51-43 lead into the final 10 minutes of play.
Tech flipped the script in the final period, setting their sights on a comeback. Buckner opened the fourth with a huge 3-pointer to cut the deficit to five, 51-46. The Gamecocks responded to mount an 8-4 run to retake a nine-point lead with 5:55 to play. That was the point that the Golden Eagles locked in to make a rally. Buckner kicked off the comeback bid with a huge 3-point jumper to cut the deficit to six. Jacksonville kicked things back out to eight, 61-53, but back-to-back-to-back layups from Wilkinson, Guinn, and Harris, as well as a pair of Harris' free throws, capped off an 8-2 rally to bring the Golden Eagles within two with 35 seconds to play. Tech missed a driving layup before the Gamecocks would connect on a free throw to make it a three-point game. One final 3-point attempt just wouldn't fall as the game ended 64-61.
The Golden Eagles won the battle on the glass, outrebounding the Gamecocks 33-28, including a 7-5 mark on the offensive glass. Tech also made 23 trips to the free throw line, while only giving up 10 trips to JSU. However, the Gamecocks did most of their damage in the paint, outscoring Tech 42-20.
"I have been really encouraged by what I have seen from our team this last week," said Rosamond. "There has been tremendous growth and improvement. We were down nine late in the game and our kids just kept fighting. We had a lot of players step up and make plays that got us back in the game. We are all disappointed we weren't able to finish, but I will go to war with that team that was on the floor today any day of the week."
"What we set out to accomplish this season is still in front of us," said Rosamond. "It doesn't feel that way right now, because of how we ended. However, this is a team that could go and beat anybody. It's the championship season and everyone is back at 0-0. March is here, and there is a reason it's called March Madness. We have spent the entire last month playing the exact teams that we will face this week in Evansville. It won't be easy, but nothing worth doing in life ever is. As tough as this month has been, it has shown us exactly who we have to be and how we have to play in order to knock off the best teams in this league."
Tech clinched the sixth-seed and will prepare for postseason play as the Golden Eagles head to the OVC Tournament in Evansville, Ill. next week. The Golden Eagles will take on the Southeast Missouri Redhawks on Thursday, March 5 at 3 p.m. inside the Ford Center.
Photo by Thomas Corhern