By Jonathan Caudle, TTU Sports Information
EVANSVILLE, Ind. – Tennessee Tech women's basketball fell in an 82-81 heartbreaker in the opening round of the OVC Tournament on Thursday inside the Ford Center to close out the 2019-20 season.
"We were playing for something bigger than ourselves today, and I hope everyone in Cookeville and Putnam County who watched this game saw the fight and heart that our kids had for our community, who has experienced so much loss this past week. We wanted this game deeply for our city, and I'm sorry we couldn't find a way to finish. But even though the final scoreboard didn't show it, our players were winners in every way today."
"SEMO is an outstanding team, and they showed that by making huge plays at the end. At the same time, our team did so many good things today. Our effort was outstanding, we defended, we hit shots, and we rebounded up until the last five minutes of regulation. This was probably our best effort of the year, and I hate that our kids weren't able to celebrate the heart and soul they put into tonight."
Three Golden Eagles tallied double-figure totals in the contest, led by junior Mackenzie Coleman with a career-high 28 points. She narrowly missed a double-double with a team-high nine rebounds.
"Over the last three or four weeks, Mackenzie has been a player" said Rosamond. "She has battled to stay healthy this season and played all year on a stress fracture that really held her back until the middle of January. The last month, she has started to feel better, and she has played like the dominant player that we all know she is. I am excited about seeing a healthy Mackenzie Coleman return for her senior year. I know the disappointment and pain of how this season ended this last month will be a strong fuel for our entire team going into next season."
Juniors Jordan Brock and Kesha Brady joined Coleman in double-figures with 16 points and 15 points, respectively. Brock became the 31st Golden Eagle in Tennessee Tech women's basketball history to surpass the 1,000-point mark during their career. Brock led the Golden Eagles, tying for a career-high six assists. Junior Abby Buckner tallied a team-high three steals and senior Anacia Wilkinson tallied a game-high two blocks.
Southeast Missouri opened the game with a 3-pointer to take the 3-0 lead, but the Golden Eagles quickly responded with five unanswered, capped by a Brady 3-pointer, to take their first lead of the contest, 5-3. Tech outscored Southeast Missouri 4-2 to extend its lead to four at the 7:28 mark, 9-5. SEMO held the Golden Eagles scoreless over the following two minutes of clock to retake a 3-point lead, 12-9, but Brock responded with a 3-pointer to even the game at 12. Tech continued the momentum to outscore the Redhawks 7-2 to hold a five-point advantage, 19-14, with less than two minutes to play in the first. Southeast Missouri closed the period on a 5-0 run to even the game at 19 after the opening 10 minutes.
The second period was a back-and-forth battle, which included 10 lead changes. Southeast Missouri took a 22-19 lead to open the period, but a 7-2 run gave the Golden Eagles a two-point advantage at 26-24. SEMO produced a 5-2 run to hold the 29-28 advantage at the final media timeout of the half. The period remained even through a 33-33 tie with 3:16 to play in the second. The Redhawks closed the half on a 4-1 run to send the game into the half with Tech trailing by three, 37-34.
Tech kicked off the second half with six unanswered points to retake a one-point lead at the 7:27 mark, 40-39. Following a Redhawk field goal, Tech produced a 6-0 run to lead by five, 46-41, at the third-period media timeout. The Golden Eagles extended their lead to six, 51-45, with 4:40 left in the third. Southeast Missouri rallied to hold Tech scoreless over the next two minutes of clock to close back within one, 51-50, but a 9-3 Golden Eagle run closed out the third to give Tech a seven-point advantage entering the final 10 minutes of play, 60-53.
The Golden Eagles continued the momentum into the fourth on a 5-2 run to extend Tech's lead to its largest of the contest, 65-55. The Redhawks and Golden Eagles traded buckets to a 67-57 Tech lead with 7:49 to play. Over the next two and a half minutes, Southeast Missouri tallied 10 unanswered to even the game at 67. Tech went on a 6-2 run to lead 73-69 with 2:05 remaining, but the Redhawks locked down Tech over the last two minutes of play to score six unanswered to even the contest at 73 with 31 seconds on the clock. Coleman missed a 3-point jumper with four seconds on the clock to send the contest into overtime.
The Golden Eagles scored the first bucket of the period to lead 75-73. The Redhawks responded to even the game at 75. Coleman knocked down another 3-pointer to put tech up 78-75. SEMO closed the game back within one with 2:43 remaining, 78-77. Wilkinson hit a layup to put Tech up by three with one minute left, 80-77. Southeast Missouri trailed by one, 80-79, at the 15-second mark, but following a Buckner free throw, the Redhawks' Taelour Pruitt connected on a last-second three to close the game at its 82-81 final.
The Golden Eagles shot 43 percent from the field, 36 percent from 3-point range, and 76 percent from the free throw line during the contest, while holding Southeast Missouri to 44 percent from the field, 28 percent from long-range, and 77 percent from the line. The Redhawks barely outrebounded the Golden Eagles by four, 42-38.
"We finally shot the ball the way that we are capable of shooting the basketball," said Rosamond. "Our offense left us in the month of February. Our ability to knock down shots especially at crucial times left us, and with that our confidence started to disappear. Our team kept showing up and going to work every day, and in the last two weeks we found our way back. Our kids fought to the bitter end."
"Naci and Akia are two kids that you hate to see walk out of that locker room," said Rosamond. "Not only because of the players they are, but more importantly because of the people they are. Our one rule we have is to leave it better than you found it. Those two kids are absolutely leaving this program better than they found it. 24 months ago, we had won seven games and finished tied for the bottom of the conference. They have helped us to two-consecutive winning seasons, some milestones victories, and a postseason appearance. This program looks a lot different now than from the time they walked in. The expectations are different. They will be remembered on the court, but they will also be remembered off the court for their heart, character, and the type of young women they are."
"We will go into this off-season a motivated team," said Rosamond. "There won't be a head coach, a staff, or a team in this conference that works harder than we will to take the next step. But before we start with our offseason, our priority will be to get home and give back to a community that has given so much to us. We will cry, we will mourn, but we will also rise up and help friends and family rebuild. Cookeville is a special place, and I know we will all lift up those who were affected by the horrific tornados. Our community is one of love, strength, and faith and we will be there to do our part in the days, weeks, and months ahead."
Tech closes the season 17-13 overall and the Redhawks improve to 23-7 on the season.
Photo by Thomas Corhern