By Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Tech men's basketball team couldn't keep pace with the hot-shooting visitors from Tennessee State Thursday evening, as the Tigers' torrid start from beyond the arc proved enough to avenge Tech's overtime victory in the Gentry Center earlier this season.
TSU defeated the Golden Eagles in the Eblen Center 72-59 behind five double-digit scoring efforts.
"I thought our guys competed to the very end," said Tech head coach Steve Payne. "The game started out and (TSU) was very motivated, very physical, very aggressive. Their defensive game plan had changed a little bit from the previous game where they really tried to pack it in and keep us out of the paint.
"We struggled and we took some early shots where we really should have tried to work their defense. We just weren't very patient in the lower-possession game, but, at the same time, we've been hitting a lot of those shots. If we hit those shots, it's a different game."
With the loss, Tech (10-17, 6-6 Ohio Valley Conference) and State (15-10, 6-6 OVC) now sit deadlocked in a tie for fourth in the East Division and seventh overall – trailing Murray State by half a game, with a 6-5 mark in league play.
"We'll live to fight another day," Payne said. "We're still in the hunt, battling to see what seed we can get. I thought (Thursday) could have been a big win if we got it toward a bye, but right now we just have to worry about the next day and let it come out how it does."
Ken'Darrius Hamilton led TSU with 21 points and 10 rebounds for a double-double, while Wayne Martin added 15 points, Darreon Reddick scored 13, Delano Spencer chipped in with 11, and Armani Chaney scored 10. The Tigers shot 27-for-56 from the floor, including 10-for-25 from 3-point range as Spencer, Reddick and Hamilton each drained three long-range shots.
For the Golden Eagles, Hakeem Rogers led the way with 17 points, while Curtis Phillips Jr. added 14. Kajon Mack pulled down 10 boards, tying his career-high mark. Tech was 17-for-46 on field goals, including 9-for-28 from 3-point range. The Golden Eagles also knocked down 16 of their 26 attempts.
Rogers was 5-for-8 from 3-point range.
The Tigers pounced out to a big lead early and was able to secure a 36-19 advantage at the intermission.
"At halftime, we were killing the glass and we were even in the paint," Payne said. "We were even in turnovers, but we were way down. I thought we came out in the second half and just made some shots. We tried to pick the pace of the game up, but when you try to come back … we missed free throws – AJ was 2-for-4, Kajon was 3-for-8, Hakeem was 2-for-4 – and those nine points are huge when you're trying to come back. We had times in transition where we turned the ball over and it turned into buckets for them.
"We really played and the defense played very hard in the second half, until the point we had to scramble and trap and they were able to work the rim. That's just trying to make more possessions and hope they miss."
TSU led by as many as 21 with 2:34 remaining in the contest, but Tech was able to chip away in the waning moments for a 13-point final margin.
The Golden Eagles don't have much time to dwell on the defeat, hosting OVC-leader Belmont on Saturday night in the second game of a women-men doubleheader, starting with the Tech women at 5:30 p.m. at the Eblen Center.
Tickets for Saturday's "Think Pink" doubleheader are on sale at the Eblen Center ticket office, by calling (931) 372-3940 or by visiting TTUsports.com.
Photo by Thomas Corhern