By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The longest game in Tennessee Tech's Ohio Valley Conference Tournament history was as exciting and thrilling and incredible as they get Wednesday evening. A seesaw affair with big shot after big shot. Two overtime periods. Two long-time league rivals simply throwing hay-makers and standing up to each other punch-for-punch.
In the end, however, one team had to come away with the victory. One team had to move on to the quarterfinals of the men's bracket of the OVC Tournament. And after a last-second 3-point attempt from Hakeem Rogers just clanged off the front of the rim, that team would be Murray State.
The seventh-seeded Racers (15-16) just edged the sixth-seeded Golden Eagles (12-20) at Municipal Auditorium, using a last-second triple from Jonathan Stark for a heart-wrenching 85-84 decision over Tech.
Stark was the man of the night, scoring a game-high 41 points on a whopping 40 attempts from the field. As for the Golden Eagles, there was plenty of scoring to go around with five players notching double figures.
Senior Hakeem Rogers saved one of his best efforts for his final career game donning the purple and gold, recording his first career double-double with a team-high 20 points and tying for the team lead with 10 rebounds. Junior Curtis Phillips Jr. also tallied his first career double-double, corralling 10 boards and scoring 16 points.
Kajon Mack dropped 17 huge points while hauling in seven rebounds while Aleksa Jugovic posted 15 points in a career-high 48 minutes of action. Mason Ramsey also played a career-high 48 minutes, dropping 13 points on 50 percent shooting.
The Tech attack was essentially broken into a play with four different acts.
In the contest's opening 20 minutes, it was the two Tech juniors who stood out for the Golden Eagles, combining for 18 of the team's 30 points on 6-for-9 shooting. Ramsey worked the paint like the veteran big man he is, dropping 10 points on 4-of-5 accuracy. Jugovic dropped two triples and a couple of free throws for eight points.
Despite outshooting the Racers by over 11 percent from the field, Tech held just a one-point lead at the break as Murray State attempted 15 more shots, heating up late after a paltry 2-for-18 start from the field to start the game.
|Senior Kajon Mack lifts and attacks the rim for the game-tying dunk with under two seconds to play in regulation.|
ACT 2: THE SECOND HALF
The final 20 minutes of regulation belonged to Rogers, who buried three treys on his way to 12 points. He also snagged five rebounds while helping lead Tech back from an eight-point deficit with 14:10 to play.
After spending much of the first half on the bench in foul trouble, Mack came alive in the second stanza, particularly late. The senior posted seven points and six rebounds in the span, including an incredible and clutch, driving dunk with under two seconds to play to force the game's first overtime period.
ACT 3: OVERTIME
Starring Kajon Mack
After sparking Tech to extra time with the buzzer-beating dunk, Mack completely took over the first overtime period, putting the team on his back offensively. The Los Angeles native scored all nine points for Tech in the five minutes of extra play, having an answer for each time Murray State took the lead.
After the Racers snagged a 64-62 lead with a couple of free throws, Mack buried an NBA-range triple to take the lead. Terrell Miller snagged a low post layup, but Mack attacked the paint with a runner to tilt things back in Tech's favor.
Jonathan Stark hit a jumper for the Murray State lead, but again, Mack answered by draining a triple for a 70-68 advantage. Stark returned the favor with a three of his own on the other end. Mack tied things for good with a free throw with 1:09 to play in the first overtime.
Murray State attacked early in the second overtime, jumping out to what looked like a safe, five-point lead with 2:27 to play. Jugovic had other plans, connecting on a highly contested 3-pointer to trim the deficit to two.
With one minute to go, Phillips Jr. worked it hard into the paint and finished a tough layup with contact to set up the old-fashioned three-point play. After knocking down the free throw, the junior had provided Tech a one-point lead.
He connected on another bruising layup with 27 seconds left on the clock to snag the lead back for Tech following two Stark free throws. He then knocked down a free throw to put the Golden Eagles up by two with 13 seconds to play. Stark came down the court and launched a deep shot from the beyond the arc with two hands in his face.
To the dismay of Tech fans, the ball dropped through the net with six to go, providing the final lead change of the game. Rogers managed a solid, albeit deep, look from three at the buzzer, but the shot fell just short off the front iron.
Tech's lone senior exhausting his eligibility in the 2016-17 season, Rogers finished his final season in the purple and gold averaging 11.8 points per game while playing in all 32 games. He made 12 starts on the year, averaging 22.8 minutes per game and grabbing 2.8 rebounds per game. For his career, he scored 674 points (10.9 ppg), hauled in 151 rebounds (2.4 rpg), and knocked down 125 3-pointers to rank in the top 15 in school history.
Jugovic made some history in his junior campaign, finishing the year with a 90.8 percent shooting touch from the charity stripe, the third-highest single-season mark in program history. He also knocked down 82 attempts from downtown, the sixth most in a single season in school history.
Photos by Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information