By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – A strong finish to the first half and quick start to the second half proved more than enough to carry the Tennessee Tech men's basketball team to an 86-74 victory over in-state and Ohio Valley Conference rival Austin Peay Thursday evening in the Hooper Eblen Center.
"We're very happy with the win, obviously," head coach Steve Payne said. "They've been playing super. Their commitment to attacking the basket from the post is hard to defend, their defense is hard to attack and their rebounding is just something we were trying to hang on with."
The Golden Eagles (12-6, 4-1) improved to a perfect 8-0 in the Hoop in the 2017-18 campaign, thanks in large part to a 20-4 run from the end of the first half through the first three minutes of the second half against the Governors (9-8, 4-1).
Prior to the run, Austin Peay had held its largest lead of the contest, a 28-22 advantage with just under five minutes before the break. Tech closed off the half with a 12-2 streak on the power of four different Golden Eagle contributors. The home team followed its halftime breather with an 8-2 run to kick off the second stanza, again with four separate players denting the scoreboard.
The Govs would fight to within four points with just under six minutes to play, but the Golden Eagles proved too stout offensively, particularly at the free throw line, pulling away little-by-little for the 12-point victory.
"I am really happy with our guys," Payne expressed "I thought that except for a two-minute stretch in the second half, we did a great job rebounding the ball, especially on defensive side. Once we took care of the ball in the second half, we scored points. Although I never felt like we were smooth, I thought some guys really stepped up and hit some shots."
On the night, Tech visited the charity stripe 37 times, sinking 28 tries behind a stellar effort from senior guard Aleksa Jugovic. Normally known for his prowess beyond the 3-point line, Jugovic overcame an 0-for-4 night from downtown by taking what the APSU defense offered, a lane to the basket. He finished the contest a perfect 10-of-10 from the line on his way to 22 points.
Carrying the Golden Eagle load offensively early in second half was Special Olympics Player of the Game, Curtis Phillips Jr. The senior forward tallied 17 of his game-high 26 points over the final 20 minutes, finishing 5-of-7 from the field and 5-of-5 from the line down the stretch. On the night, he tallied six rebounds and two more steals, adding to his league-leading total of 36.
Fellow senior forward Mason Ramsey was presence in the paint for Tech, connecting on five of his eight field goal attempts and both free throws for a 12-point, five-rebound outing. Graduate guard Kajon Mack also totaled 12 points and snagged six rebounds in his return to the court after missing the Tennessee State contest with an undisclosed illness.
"That was an important win for us against a good team," Payne added. "We just need to keep moving forward and get better each day."
Chris Porter-Bunton led the Govs with 23 points and seven rebounds while Averyl Ugba chipped in 16. Terry Taylor finished a rebound shy of a double-double, tallying 10 points and nine rebounds.
Tech will host the Murray State Saturday evening in a 7:30 p.m. CT affair following the Golden Eagle women's contests against the Racers at 5:30 p.m.
The Saturday doubleheader will represent Legends Night. In honor of the 40th anniversary of the Hooper Eblen Center, Tech has invited back members of the 1977-78 men's and women's basketball teams. Tech will also welcome the 1957-58 and 1962-63 OVC regular season champion squads, both of which went on to represent the Golden Eagles in the NCAA Tournament.
Additionally, the game will also be Tech's second Upper Cumberland Night, providing all fans with an Upper Cumberland address on their identification with $1 admission.
Photo by Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information