Huge effort by Golden Eagles not quite enough to halt No. 14 Racers

MURRAY, Ky. -- Round One between two of the Ohio Valley Conference basketball heavyweights went to Murray State Saturday night, 82-74, but Tennessee Tech -- and Golden Eagle fans -- are already looking forward to the rematch.

Round Two comes on Feb. 25 when the Racers visit Eblen Center for the final game of the regular season.

Tech (11-7/3-2 OVC) fell way behind in the first half, trailing by 17 points in the first 10 minutes, but the Golden Eagles kept their composure and fought all the way back to tie the contest three times in the second half despite a loud, partisan sellout crowd's displeasure at everything purple.

Murray State (18-0/6-0 OVC) regained control to edge back in front over the final seven minutes and took advantage of a depleted Golden Eagle lineup as an injury and lots of fouls took their toll. Tech lost guard Chase Dunn to an ankle injury early in the game, then yielded starters Jud Dillard, Terrell Barnes and Kevin Murphy via fouls.

Donte Poole led the Racers with 28 points and eight rebounds while Isaiah Canaan netted 24 points. The pair combined to go 17-for-19 at the free throw line. Murray State was 27-for-40 at the charity stripe for the game. Jewuan Long added 12 points and five boards and Zay Jackson had 11 points and five boards for MSU.

Dillard and Murphy were Tech's leading scorers with 19 each before fouling out. Dillard, who was 7-for-13 from the field, finished with a double-double with 12 rebounds. Zac Bailey came off the bench to proivde 14 points and four rebounds while Zac Swansey finished with 10 points. Swansey also dished out three assists, surpassing Anthony Fisher and moving into eighth on TTU's all-time career assists list. He now has 315 assists in just one-and-a-half seasons as a Golden Eagle. The Golden Eagles were 16-for-28 at the free throw line.

The Golden Eagles went up 5-3 to open the game before Murray State rolled out a 15-0 run to take the early control. It was 26-9 in favor of the Racers for the largest lead of the game when Dillard scored a layup to stop the runaway.

From there, Murphy and Dillard scored every Tech basket over the next seven minutes and the Golden Eagles pulled to within nine. Dennis Ogbe, Swansey and Bailey scored the rest of Tech's baskets in the half and the Golden Eagles were within three at halftime, 39-36.

Tech tied the game three times in the second half, the last time at 58-58 with nine minutes remaining.

Poole drained a 3-pointer with 8:03 to play and Tech never caught up after that, although the Golden Eagles were within one.

Down two, 67-65, the Golden Eagles saw Long knock down a crucial 3-pointer with 3:04 to play and from there the Racers made 10 consecutive free throws to preserve their edge.

"I'm excited about our team, and I hope the people back home will get excited about our team," said head coach Steve Payne. "I challenge the people of Cookeville and Tennessee Tech to have this kind of atmosphere. If we had this kind of atmosphere, we'd never lose a game."

Golden Eagle fans get their first chance to support Tech this week with two home games. On Thursday night, Tech hosts Jacksonville State at 7 p.m., and on Saturday night the Golden Eagles host a doubleheader against Southeast Missouri.

Thursday's game will feature a blizzard following Tech's first field goal of the game.

For information or tickets, please visit or call the Athletics Ticket Office in Eblen Center at (931) 372-3940.