By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – A late surge at the end of the first half of Saturday's contest in Nashville proved to be the difference in the ball game, as the Tennessee Tech men's basketball team (5-10, 1-1) fell to Ohio Valley Conference rival Belmont in the Curb Event Center, 79-67.
"There's no doubt in my mind we are getting better," Tech head coach Steve Payne said. "They are a very good team. I thought a few weeks ago they deserved to be in the top-25. I thought we came in here and really fought."
The Bruins (10-3, 1-1) used a 16-5 run over the final four-and-a-half minutes of the opening stanza, quickly eliminating Tech's final lead of the contest to take a 42-32 advantage into the locker room. Tech's struggles at the free throw line also proved a large factor in the defeat. The Golden Eagles finished just 18-of-34 from the stripe on the night, a mark of 52.9 percent.
"We just make our free throws and it's right there," Payne explained. "We had our chances. We are playing more and more good stretches of basketball. Tonight, we played 34 to 35 minutes of good basketball. The four or five minutes we didn't play good basketball cost us the game against a very good team. The silly turnovers, the missed free throws…we need to cut those. For the most part, I thought we did some really nice things. I thought we fought hard all night."
In the second half, Belmont looked to extend the lead and put the game in a comfortable position to cruise, but the Tech defense never let it happen. The Bruins expanded the advantage to as much as 16 with 11 minutes to play, but the Golden Eagles scrapped and fought to close within single digits.
With just 2:36 left on the clock, graduate transfer Malik Martin laid down a monstrous slam to cut the deficit to nine. Belmont answered with a triple just 30 seconds later, just beating the shot clock with a dagger.
Martin turned in one of his best games in the purple and gold, leading the Golden Eagles with 17 points on 7-for-12 shooting. He also hauled in six boards while playing a season-high 32 minutes.
"In the second half, he really went and got the ball off the glass," Payne said of Martin. "He'll shoot the ball a little better than he has when his hand gets better. Right now he's not 100 percent, but it doesn't keep him from rebounding. It doesn't keep him from finishing with toughness. His spirt was very good for us in the second half and we needed it."
Jr. Clay turned in another double-digit scoring performance, finishing with 12 points and three assists. Courtney Alexander II added 11 points on a 4-for-5 night from the floor, tacking on a team-high eight rebounds, two blocks and two steals. Micaiah Henry chipped in 10 points as well.
Belmont's Dylan Windler led all scorers with 23 points and nine boards. Bruin bigs Nick Muszynski and Seth Adelsperger each posted 12 points.
The Golden Eagles return to Cookeville for their first taste of OVC action in the Eblen Center this season next Thursday, Jan. 10, playing host to SIUE in a 7:30 p.m. CT affair.
Photo by Thomas Corhern