COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – It took a career-high 31 points from senior Kevin Murphy, a near perfect night from junior Jud Dillard and the entire 40 minutes of play Sunday evening for Tennessee Tech to finally subdue a relentless Wilberforce University squad that came to Eblen Center with an upset in mind.
The Bulldogs, hailing from a tiny NAIA school near Dayton, Ohio, was within two points in the final minute, before the Golden Eagles managed an 84-83 non-conference victory.
A fade-away 3-pointer at the buzzer by Chris Olafioye made it a one-point finish after Tech had scavenged a four-point lead with 13 seconds to play.
Senior Darius Foster had the hot hand for Wilberforce, going 6-for-10 from long range and 7-for-8 at the free throw line to net 31 points and held keep his team in the thick of the challenge.
Olafioye scored 16 points and had four assists and Terrance Morgan added 11, going 3-for-3 from long range. The Bulldogs (3-6) also got eight points and four assists from Ronald Hightower, eight from Tremayne Scott and seven from Patrick Perdue on a night when Wilberforce shot 50 percent (25-for-50) from the field and 55.6 percent (10-for-18) from long range.
Murphy led Tech with 31 points, going 8-for-9 at the free throw line, and added six rebounds and three assists. Dillard narrowly missed a double-double, finishing with 23 points and nine rebounds while hitting 10-for-11 from the field.
Bassey Inameti also reached double figures with 11 points. Point guard Zac Swansey dished out nine assists and tied his career-high with six steals. Tech shot 51.6 percent (32-for-62) from the field including 71.7 percent (29-for-41) from inside the arc. Tech hit 14.3 percent (3-for-21) from long range.
Wilberforce led by as many as 11 points in the first half, racing out to an 11-0 lead. The Bulldogs and Foster hit most of their shots in the opening 15 minutes and allowed Tech just a one-point lead on three occasions.
Finally, with 6:22 to go before intermission, Kevin Murphy hit a 3-pointer that pushed Tech on top, 31-28, and the Golden Eagles used that to kick-start their offense. Tech went on a 10-3 run, capped by Zac Swansey's first points of the night to make it 41-31 with 4:01 remaining. The Golden Eagles led by nine at halftime, 49-40.
Tech maintained the lead throughout the second period, but could never shake loose from the Bulldogs. The Golden Eagles were still on top by double-digits, 78-67, when Wilberforce put together a last-ditch charge that nearly earned the upset.
Foster hit back-to-back shots to ignite an 11-2 run by the Bulldogs that pulled them to within two, 80-78, with 2:30 to play. Murphy hit a jumper and Foster followed with two free throws, and it was back to two points, 82-80, with 40 seconds remaining.
Murphy drew a foul with 13 seconds and canned both free throws to make it 84-80. Tech forced a missed 3-pointer with seven seconds left, but Zach Bailey slipped and fell, and was called for traveling, giving the ball back to Wilberforce with 2.3 seconds.
Olafioyle fired up a fadeaway 3-pointer that scorched the net as the buzzer sounded.
Tech (3-3) has six days to prepare for its next encounter. The Golden Eagles play at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Saturday at 6 p.m. CT.