By Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information
CHARLESTON, Ill. – The Ohio Valley Conference race is heating up and with six games to play in the regular season, it's all about making that final push and locking down one of the two byes in the conference tournament in Evansville.
The Tennessee Tech women are certainly well aware of how tight the league standings are. After a tough loss on Saturday to Belmont, the Bruins currently have a one-game lead in the OVC at 10-2. Tech stands at 9-3, a half-game up on Austin Peay (8-3). Murray State (8-4) and Eastern Illinois (8-4) are just a game back, making this weekend's games for the Golden Eagles important as they try to build separation.
It all starts on Thursday as the Golden Eagles head to Charleston, Ill., to take on the Eastern Illinois Panthers (13-10 overall). Tipoff is set for 5 p.m.
Since falling to Tech on January 24, EIU has won five straight games and it is gunning for the Golden Eagles. The battle in Cookeville was heated with the Golden Eagles emerging the 65-60 victors, buoyed by Maaliya Owens' second-half performance with 11 of her 14 points coming in the third and fourth quarters, including 6-for-6 at the free-throw line. Anna Jones also recorded a double-double with 10 points and 15 boards, while Mackenzie Coleman led Tech with 15 points and Jada Guinn added 12,
But Eastern Illinois' tandem of Abby Wahl, Kira Arthofer and Lariah Washington proved to be tough to stop. Wahl led EIU with 15 points, while Arthofer and Washington each scored 14. As a team, the Panthers were shooting 51.9 percent from the field.
The differential came from beyond the arc – Tech was 7-of-27 to Eastern's 1-of-7 – at the free-throw line – Tech was 10-of-14 to EIU's 3-for-5 – and on the glass – the Golden Eagles outrebounded the Panthers 37-26. Coleman also blocked four shots in the game. However, EIU was able to create 10 steals, including six for Washington.
Washington leads the Panthers in scoring for the season, averaging 15.4 points a game. Wahl is averaging 11.4 points and a team-best 5.7 rebounds, while Arthofer is averaging 9.7 points and 5.0 assists.
The only loss the Panthers have had in the last eight games is against the Golden Eagles. EIU head coach Matt Bollant is 0-7 against Tech in his five seasons with the Panthers and the Golden Eagles have won seven straight and 10 of the last 13 meetings. With as close as the previous game was, there's no question the Panthers have this game circled.
The Golden Eagles (14-8, 9-3 OVC), meanwhile, saw Belmont snap their seven-game winning streak, but Tech is still pretty much on a tear as of late, winning 12 of its last 15 games – the losses coming at Tennessee State in overtime and at home to Murray State and Belmont. Five of the six remaining opponents have already seen Golden Eagle victories against them – Tech gets its chance to avenge the Tennessee State loss at home on Feb. 24.
Jones leads Tech in scoring and rebounds, averaging 12.3 and 6.7 respectively. Coleman is averaging 11.5 points a game and 5.1 boards, blocking 27 shots on the season. Guinn is just outside the double-digit mark with 9.4 points, while collecting a team-best 80 assists.
In conference play only, Jones is averaging 13.6 points and 7.2 rebounds, while Coleman (11.1 ppg, 4.8 rpg) and Anna Walker (10.2 ppg, 3.4 rpg) are both averaging double-figures in scoring. Guinn is off by just a tenth, averaging 9.9 points and 5.8 boards a night in league play.
Dylan Vazzano will have the call on 106.1 The Eagle, while the game will also be carried on ESPN+ (subscription required). The weekend will conclude with a road matinee at SIUE on Saturday before the Golden Eagles come home to host Southeast Missouri on Thursday and travel to Austin Peay on Saturday.
Tickets for next week's games are available – call (931) 372-3940, visit the Eblen Center ticket office or visit TTUsports.com. Tickets for the OVC Basketball Championships in Evansville, Ind., are also on sale now.
Photo | Jim Dillon