COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – A second chance. That's what the Tennessee Tech men's basketball team has waiting for it on Saturday evening when the Golden Eagles lay out the welcome wagon to in-state rival Belmont in a 7:30 p.m. CT rematch of this season's earlier meeting between the two programs.
Belmont narrowly escaped Tech in Nashville earlier in the season, squeaking by with a 64-62 win as a last second jumper by the Golden Eagles just bounced off the rim. The Bruins sit in first play in the Ohio Valley Conference, owning an 8-1 record in league play. The Golden Eagles, who have lost its last four contests and sit at 3-5 in the conference, will look to right the ship and get back in the hunt for a spot in the OVC tournament.
TV: WCTE (Buddy Pearson and Frank Harrell)
Radio: 106.1 The Eagle (Roger Ealey)
Webcast: OVC Digital Network (Buddy Pearson and Frank Harrell)
SETTING THE STAGE Since joining the Ohio Valley Conference in 2012-13, Belmont has proven to be a tough in-state rival for the Golden Eagles, winning all three contests against the boys from Cookeville.
Prior to the Bruin's arrival in the league, Tech owned the series without even a remote hiccup, leading 11-0 since 1956.
THE LAST TIME THEY MET
A late jumper and a last second put-back attempt couldn't quite find the bottom of the net as the Tennessee Tech men's basketball was dealt its first Ohio Valley Conference loss of the season, falling to the Belmont Bruins, 64-62, at the Curb Event Center in Nashville.
Trailing by 16 points with just under 12 minutes to play, the Golden Eagles clawed their way back to a one-possession game behind stout defensive play and clutch buckets from senior Jeremiah Samarrippas and junior Javon McKay.
With 1:06 left in regulation and the Bruins holding to a 64-59 advantage, junior Ladon Carter made a clutch steal, forcing Craig Bradshaw into a turnover after Belmont had come away with two consecutive offensive rebounds. Carter kicked the ball up the court to freshman guard Shirmane Thomas who then found McKay in the right corner for one of the biggest treys of the guard's career at Tech. McKay buried the three to bring Tech within two points with 58 seconds left on the clock.
Trying to run out the clock, Belmont moved the ball around the top of key while attempting to prevent the Golden Eagle defense from getting to close and forcing a five-second call. In an attempt to get away from the Tech pressure, the Bruin's Bradshaw made a spin move, but Samarrippas picked his pocket clean, knocking the rock free and diving on the loose ball before calling a quick timeout.
Twenty-four second remained and the Golden Eagles had the last possession. Or so they thought.
In an attempt to get the ball across the paint, a pass from Ty Allen got deflected by his teammate, Dwan Caldwell back over the half court line for an over-and-back call. The turnover, with just six seconds remaining, seemed to doom the Golden Eagles chances at finalizing the comeback.
But once again, not everything was quite as it seemed.
With an inbounds all but separating the Bruins from a 2-0 start, Reece Chamberlain took the ball and looked for J.J. Mann to seal Tech's fate. But the junior and senior miscommunicated and Chamberlain's pass sailed out-of-bounds all the way back by Tech's baseline, giving the Golden Eagles one final chance at glory.
The Golden Eagles knew the ball had to go through their hottest player's hands and with 16 second-half points, Samarrippas was the man. The Bartow, Fla. native took control of the ball and quickly moved to his left at the top of the key, with two defenders bearing down on him, he quickly dribble up the lane to open space. Samarrippas threw up a pump fake before getting a decent look at the rim with less than three seconds to play. The ball just rattled off the rim and a tip-in attempt by McKay just missed its mark.
With the 64-62 loss, the Tech squad moved to 8-9 overall and 1-1 in OVC play on the season. Samarrippas led the Golden Eagle scoring effort, finishing with 16 points as well as two dimes and three steals. Dennis Ogbe had a solid game, scoring 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting while also leading Tech with seven rebounds.
Bradshaw led all scorers with 17 points on the night and Mann followed with 14 of his own. Both Mann and Chamberlain grabbed six rebounds apiece. Evan Bradds also finished in double-figures, notching 10.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Senior Dennis Ogbe ranks second on the Tech squad in scoring, averaging 10.0 point per contest. He also leads the Golden Eagles in rebounds, pulling down 6.0 per game.
Junior Dwan Caldwell has played a key role as the big man in the paint for the Golden Eagles. He is leading Tech in scoring, averaging 10.1 points per game while grabbing 5.4 boards per contest. He also blocks 1.0 shots per game.
Point guard Jeremiah Samarrippas is the lead dog in assists for the Golden Eagles, averaging 4.1 per game while also leading the way with 40 steals. He tacks on 9.4 points per game as well. In OVC play, he is shooting an impressive 39.2 percent from beyond the arc while leading Tech with 12.1 points and 4.9 assists per game.
Ladon Carter provides great depth off the bench for Tech, ranking third in the OVC in field goal percentage with a .634 mark while scoring 7.3 points per game and pulling down 5.3 rebounds.
Redshirt sophomore Josiah Moore is one of six Golden Eagles averaging at least seven points this season, scoring 7.3 per contest.
JUCO transfer Jordan Johnson collected his eighth consecutive start of the season against Tennessee State. In eight OVC games he is shooting 40.0 percent from 3-point range.