By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
MURRAY, Ky. – A strong defensive effort just wasn't enough Saturday evening, as the Tennessee Tech men's basketball team fell to Murray State in its regular season road finale in Murray, Ky., 75-65.
The Golden Eagles (17-12, 9-7) forced a season-high 20 turnovers by the Racers (22-5, 14-2) and held the hometown team to just 43.6 percent shooting. The Tech defense also held one of the league's best 3-point shooting teams to just 32 percent from downtown.
The Racers' shooting efficiency in the first half made the difference early, despite an impressive effort defensively by the Golden Eagles. Tech forced 13 Murray State turnovers over the first 20 minutes and proved why the team ranked first in the OVC and 21st nationally in steals, gathering a whopping 10.
It was MSU's 56.5 percent showing from the field and 5-for-10 effort from 3-point range, as well as Tech's early offensive struggles (35.7 percent from the field and 1-for-7 from deep), that led to the 38-27 advantage for the home team.
In the second half, however, the Golden Eagle offense rebounded, sinking 51.9 percent from the floor and hitting all eight of its free throw attempts. The defense improved from the first half, holding the league's most potent offense to just 34.4 percent from the floor and 20 percent from deep over the final 20 minutes.
The effort turned a one-time 16-point deficit into a just a seven-point hill to climb with a little under six minutes to play. It would mark the closest Tech would get as a tough foul call on the next possession provided Murray's Jonathan Stark with three freebies, all of which he knocked down on his way to a game-high 30 points.
The difference-maker in the contest came on the glass and beyond the arc. The Racers finished with a 38-30 advantage in rebounding, including a 12-9 lead in offensive boards. While Tech held Murray State below 35 percent shooting from deep, the Racers still hit five more triples in the contest.
Junior forward Courtney Alexander II turned in one of his best performances in the purple and gold, tying his career-high with 14 points while adding a team-high seven rebounds and two blocks. As a team, Tech finished with 14 steals, the team's highest total in OVC play and most this season since totaling 17 against Boyce College back in November.
Curtis Phillips Jr. led Tech with 15 points, four assists and four steals while Mason Ramsey turned in 14 points and six boards. Kajon Mack also finished in double figures, scoring 10 points. Shaq Calhoun contributed nine points and six rebounds.
The Golden Eagles will finally head home after playing five of its past six games on the road, returning to the Eblen Center for their final two games of the regular season. Tech will host Tennessee State on Thursday, Feb. 22 before concluding the OVC schedule with a Saturday rematch against Jacksonville State. Both games are slated for 7:30 p.m. CT.
Photo by Dave Winder, Murray State Media Relations