By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – A sizzling second-half scoring effort and strong defensive play throughout the night lifted the Tennessee Tech men's basketball team to a 76-65 victory over Southeast Missouri in the Eblen Center Thursday.
The Golden Eagles (14-8, 6-3) scored 47 second-half points while holding the Ohio Valley Conference's second-best scoring offense to just 65 points on the night. The Redhawks (10-12, 4-5) did outscore Tech in the first half, 33-29. The defense carried the home squad early, however, despite a tough first 20 minutes on the offensive end.
"This was a good win against a very talented team," head coach Steve Payne said. "They can really shoot the ball, but I felt our defensive concentration, focus and energy were very good all night. Even with our horrendous start, our defense was still pretty good. Once we stopped turning the ball over and quite panicking, I thought we were in good shape."
After not attempting a free throw in the entire first half, the Golden Eagles sank 10-of-11 the remainder of the game, including an 8-for-8 showing from senior forward Curtis Phillips Jr. Tech also fired at a 57 percent clip from the floor in the second half, sinking five triples in the offensive explosion.
Selected as the Special Olympics Player of the Game, graduate guard Kajon Mack led all scorers on the night with 22 points on an efficient 50 percent shooting from the floor and resurgent 4-for-7 effort from beyond the arc. He also hauled in eight rebounds, dished out four assists, snagged two steals and blocked a shot, all while playing every minute of the contest.
"My teammates just told me to stay confident and they were able to find me open shots honestly," Mack replied when asked about his strong shooting performance. "My teammates kept my head right."
Phillips stuffed the stat sheet as well, posting his second double-double of the season thanks to 19 points and 10 rebounds. He added six assists and two steals to the mix as well. Graduate transfer Shaq Calhoun was key in the Tech victory as well, tallying 14 points, six boards and three helpers.
Senior forward Mason Ramsey joined the double-figure club with 10 points on 50 percent shooting. Courtney Alexander II corralled seven rebounds with six points and local Sparta native Cade Crosland recorded four assists with zero turnovers off the bench.
Held to just seven assists in its last contest, Tech worked the ball around with ease on Thursday, racking up 18 assists as a team. The Golden Eagles also out-muscled the Redhawks on the glass to the tune of a 43-23 advantage, including a staggering 16-4 edge in offensive rebounds.
"I'm proud of the guys," Payne added. "This was a hard-fought, hard-earned win."
Tech will return to action Saturday evening in another 5:30/7:30 p.m. CT doubleheader with the women's team, playing host to UT Martin. The evening will serve as the programs' annual Gold Rush night, with fans highly encouraged to wear gold to the games. Coaches will also don sneakers as part of the annual Coaches vs. Cancer Suits And Sneakers™ Awareness Weekend, sponsored by the NABC.
Photo by Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information