By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – Not even a 12-0 run to start the game by Ohio Valley Conference East Division foe Morehead State (9-12, 5-3) could keep the Tennessee Tech men's basketball team (9-14, 5-3) from the winner's column Thursday night, as the Golden Eagles rallied behind lights-out shooting from deep for a 76-73 victory in the Hooper Eblen Center.
Tech guards Aleksa Jugovic and Hakeem Rogers put the team on their backs on the night, scoring a combined 46 points on 10-for-17 shooting from beyond the arc. Curtis Phillips Jr. added 13 points to the mix, tying his season-high output while also leading the Golden Eagles with five rebounds and tying for the team-lead with two steals.
Morehead State kicked off the affair on a blistering, 12-0 run while the Cookeville squad missed its first five shots of the game and made three turnovers in the opening five minutes. Tech quickly rallied behind a quick start from Phillips Jr., a Campbell transfer who made his season debut Dec. 10 at Michigan State.
The junior forward sank his first four shots of the contest, all in-a-row, to ignite the TTU offense. Rogers took over, ending a small cold spell of his own – a 1-for-4 start from the field – with a couple of free throws with just five minutes to go in the half. He followed with a layup, sandwiched by two triples that closed the gap to within four.
At the break, the original 12-point Eagle lead had already been cut to six.
Jugovic took his turn running the offense in the second half, scoring 20 of his team-high 25 points over the final 17 minutes. He hit back-to-back treys early in the period before returning the offensive torch back to his backcourt mate.
Rogers sank three big buckets from beyond the arc in a span of three minutes, tying the game with the second and forcing a Morehead State timeout. He followed with an assist on a Phillips Jr. 3-pointer right out of the break, giving Tech its first lead of the game at 55-52.
The hot hand returned to Jugovic with five minutes to play, as the Leskovac, Serbia native notched two more triples and went on a free-throw run. He finished 6-for-6 from the charity stripe down the stretch, including a 4-for-4 showing following a foul and Morehead State technical with just 22 seconds to play and the Golden Eagles up just one.
For the game, "Serbian Sugar" was a sweet, 5-for-10 from downtown and perfect 8-for-8 at the line. Rogers tallied 21 points on a highly efficient night. The Elizabeth, N.J. native hit 5-of-7 attempts from deep and 7-of-13 tries from the floor in 26 minutes off the bench.
The Golden Eagles finished a sizzling 52.4 percent from 3-point range on the night and hit 73.1 percent of its free throw attempts. The defense was also hot, forcing 20 Morehead State turnovers, blocking five shots and collecting eight steals. Tech totaled a whopping 37 bench points on the night – compared to just nine for the visiting Eagles – and scored 24 points off turnovers.
Tech will stay in the comfort of the Eblen Center Saturday evening in the second half of doubleheader action against Eastern Kentucky. Tip is set for an approximate 7:30 p.m. CT start following the women's contest.
The game represents Gold Rush, with fans encouraged to wear gold to support the team. It will also be Military and Public Safety Appreciation night. An annual feature of the event is the league's "Hoops for Heroes" initiative, which affords fans the opportunity to donate funds – members of Tech's Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) will be in the stands to collect – to help send at least one individual and their family of the gathered Service members to the OVC Tournament in Nashville, March 1-4.
Photo by Tony Marable