December 23, 2011

Golden Eagles leave Las Vegas with 67-59 win, upper bracket championship

Murphy, Dillard lead Tech over Bethune-Cookman

LAS VEGAS, Nev. – Bethune-Cookman made things interesting with a late charge, but Tennessee Tech gutted out a 67-59 victory in the championship game of the upper bracket at the Continental Tire Las Vegas Classic Friday at Orleans Arena.

The Wildcats cut what was once a 14-point lead to one with 1:49 left to play, but Zac Swansey knocked down a key jumper and the Golden Eagles got two huge defensive plays from Terrell Barnes, putting Tech on its way to its fifth victory in its last six games.

Swansey sank a jumper with 1:21 left to extend the lead back to three, then Barnes stepped in front of a Bethune-Cookman entry pass with 1:03 to play and Kevin Murphy turned the steal into points on the other end, extending Tech's lead to five. On the Wildcats' next possession, Barnes altered an Anthony Breeze layup attempt under the basket and Murphy grabbed the rebound with 30 seconds left. Tech iced the victory from the free-throw line.

Murphy and Jud Dillard led the way for the Golden Eagles with 22 points apiece. Dillard collected eight rebounds while Murphy added five.

With the win, Tech improves to 8-5 on the season and finishes the Las Vegas Classic at 2-1. The Golden Eagles are now 2-0 in games played on neutral floors this season. Tech has completed the non-conference portion of its schedule, minus a Sears BracketBuster contest in February, and will now turn its attention to Ohio Valley Conference play, which begins Thursday, Dec. 29 at SIU Edwardsville.

In addition to strong performances by Murphy and Dillard on Friday, Swansey added seven points and five rebounds while Zach Bailey contributed seven points off the bench and went 5-for-6 from the free-throw line. Barnes added five rebounds to go with three points.

Tech held Bethune-Cookman's leading scorer, Anthony Breeze, under his average by two points. Breeze finished with 11 points while Kevin Dukes led the Wildcats with 14 points and Adrian Coleman also added 11.

The Golden Eagles shot 51 percent from the field, marking the second straight game Tech has eclipsed the 50 percent shooting mark. TTU held Bethune-Cookman to just 40 percent from the field. The Wildcats took 17 three-pointers and connected on just five.

Tech struggled to maintain possession of the ball, coughing up 20 turnovers and failing to put the Wildcats away until the final minute of play. Bethune-Cookman outscored the Golden Eagles 25-12 in points off turnovers.

The Golden Eagles and Wildcats traded the lead six times in the first half before Tech began to pull away just before the break. TTU finished the first period on an 8-2 run, capped by a buzzer-beating three-pointer by Swansey that gave the Golden Eagles a 35-27 advantage at the break.

Tech quickly extended its lead to double-digits early in the second half and built the margin as high as 14 with 14:41 left. The Golden Eagles couldn't put Bethune-Cookman away, however. The Wildcats slowly chipped away at the lead, cutting it two one on a three-pointer by Kevin Dukes with 1:50 left.

Tech returns to action Thursday, Dec. 29 at SIU Edwardsville in its OVC opener. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m.

NOTES:

-Kevin Murphy extended his streak to 18 consecutive games with a made three-pointer on Friday. Murphy was 2-for-2 from beyond the arc and has now hit a three in every game since Feb. 26.

-Two Tech players surpassed the 20-point mark in the same game for the third time this season. The last time it happened, Murphy scored 29 and Dillard dropped in 22 against Lipscomb on Dec. 10.