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Ain't no mountain high enough: Golden Eagles erase 15-point deficit for first OVC win


CHARLESTON, Ill. -- Mitchell Hill provided a timely spark as the Tennessee Tech men's basketball team earned its first Ohio Valley Conference victory of the 2012-13 season Thursday night, taking down the Eastern Illinois Panthers, 77-73 behind career nights from Hill, Jeremiah Samarrippas, and Jud Dillard.

The Golden Eagles erased a first-half, 15-point deficit on their way to their first victory of 2013 and their first league win. They snapped a five-game skid with an impressive shooting performance, hitting 52 percent of their shots from the field. Even more impressive was the team's eagle-eye precision from behind the arc as the team sank 12 3-pointers on its way to a 54.4 percent mark from downtown. The team trailed the entire contest up until the final 1:10 when they tied the game for the first time. They didn't take the lead for good until there were just two seconds to play.

Morris Woods played an exceptional game for the Panthers, scoring early and often on his way to a 25-point performance. He added a game-high seven boards and paced Eastern Illinois for much of the game. Sherman Blanford also came up big for EIU scoring 18 points while dishing out six assists. The two combined for 24 first-half points, but in the end, neither had an answer for the three-guard attack and stellar play of the entire Golden Eagle squad.

A local Cookeville product, Hill nailed a career-best three 3-pointers in the contest on his way to a nine-point performance. He also nabbed a career-high three rebounds. Perhaps most impressive, however, was his defensive performance and contribution to the game outside the stat books. Playing 29 minutes, a career-high mark by nearly 10 minutes, Hill provided a defensive spark, grabbing two key rebounds followed quickly by fouls on the opposition. Both fouls were a testament to his determination in getting to the ball.

The sophomore guard heckled the Panther perimeter players all night, preventing them from getting easy three-point buckets and forcing them to dribble around more often than they were comfortable with.

Also performing above and beyond the call of duty was junior guard Jeremiah Samarrippas. A transfer from Southern Methodist, Samarrippas played his most complete game as a Golden Eagle to date. He performed splendidly defensively, recording two steals and also blocking his first career shot. The Bartow, Fla., native finished the game with two blocks, two rebounds, and seven points.

His most impressive numbers came on the offensive end of the floor. Number two dished out eight assists, a career-mark at Tennessee Tech and the most since Feb. 25, 2012 when he had nine dimes as a member of the SMU squad. His best contribution, however, would be a giant goose egg. The point guard had a mind-blowing zero turnovers on the night.

Not to be outdone, senior guard Jud Dillard put the Golden Eagles on his back in the second half in route to tying a career-best mark of 34 points. A native of Atlanta, Ga., Dillard scored 12 first half points, but clearly wasn't satisfied as Tech trailed by four going into halftime.

Dillard erupted in the second half, scoring 22 points, including a mindless 19 of the team's final 26 points. He scored 11 straight from the 3:23 mark to the final two seconds when he hit a layup to put the Golden Eagles ahead for good. The senior's 3-pointer with 51 seconds left on the clock gave Tech its first lead of the game, 73-71. He also grabbed a team-high five rebounds in the contest.

A junior hailing from Munich, Germany, Dennis Ogbe recorded his seventh game of the season scoring in double figures. His 11 points came from a career-day from 3-point range, as he drained three-of-three from behind the arc. The forward also finished the day perfect from the charity stripe, sinking both attempts.

Matt Marseille, a junior forward from Brooklyn, N.Y., came up huge down the stretch, hitting two free throws with three tenths of a second left on the clock to ice the game. He finished the contest with nine points while going six-for-six from the free throw line.

Redshirt freshman Ryon Riggins earned his second career start against the Panthers, scoring four points while hitting both field goal attempts on the night.

The Golden Eagles recorded their highest point total since losing to Loyola Chicago on the road on Nov. 28. The team turned the ball over just 12 times on the night, and recorded 16 assists. Tech recorded its highest field goal percentage since a road win at East Tennessee State on Nov. 11. Shooting 54.5 percent from behind the arc, the team recorded its best 3-point performance since Feb. 18, 2012 when it hit 55 percent at Coastal Carolina.

Tech will travel southwest to meet SIU Edwardsville in a Saturday showdown at 7 p.m. CST. SIUE is coming off a conference loss to Jacksonville State. Following the game, the Golden Eagles will receive a week off before hitting the road again for a contest at Southeast Missouri on Jan. 19.