Darling, Hayes lead Golden Eagles over Eastern Illinois, 65-58

Darling, Hayes lead Golden Eagles over Eastern Illinois, 65-58

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Golden Eagles host Southast Missouri Tuesday at 5:30 p.m.

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – With two league wins at home in early December, the Eastern Illinois Panthers were off to a strong start in backing up their preseason selection as the team to beat in the Ohio Valley Conference women’s basketball race.

But Sunday afternoon in Eblen Center, Tennessee Tech’s upstart Golden Eagles staked their claim to playing a genuine role in the chase by disposing of the Panthers, 65-58.

The Golden Eagles have little time to rest, welcoming Southeast Missouri to Eblen Center Tuesday for another OVC contest. Tipoff is at 5:30 p.m.

The win was the first for Tech over Eastern Illinois in five seasons, snapping a nine-game losing string to the Panthers. Tech improved to 7-2 overall and 2-0 in the OVC, while EIU slipped to 5-6 overall and 2-1 in the league.

Brittany Darling and Tacarra Hayes (photo above right) each rang up double-doubles for coach Sytia Messer’s squad, while Kylie Cook and Molly Heady weren’t far from getting their own. Hayes led Tech with 19 points and added 10 43bounds, six assists and two steals, while Darling had 14 points and 14 rebounds. Cook finished with eight points and seven rebounds and Heady collected six points and nine boards.

EIU had a pair of 20-point performances in the loss. Mariah King had 21 points and five rebounds while Ta’Kenya Nixon added 22 points, nine rebounds and four assists.

(Photo: Kellie Cook works against the EIU defense while Kylie Cook follows the play)

It was a defensive battle from end to end, with both teams forcing the other to struggle shooting the ball. EIU hit 28 poercent in the first half and warmed up to 50 percent in the second, finishing the game at 37 percent. The Golden Eagles shot 33.3 percent in the first half and 32.3 in the second for a game mark of 32.8 percent.

Each team had only 10 turnovers, while Tech owned a 49-39 advantage in rebounds.

The Golden Eagles spotted EIU a 2-0 lead, and saw the game tied twice in the first six minutes. Kylie Cook hit a 3-pointer to break a 6-6 tie and put the Golden Eagles into a lead they would never relinquish.

Tech stayed on top throughout the remainder of the first half, but never got its lead into double digits. A nine-point difference at 23-14 was the biggest gap of the half, coming with 5:33 to play after Rachel Glidden hit her only 3-pointer of the game.

The lead was eight at halftime, 34-26.

Darling opened the second-half scoring with a layup to give Tech its first double-digit lead, and the Golden Eagles expanded it to 12 a couple of times early in the frame.

Kelsey Wyss hit a basket and Chantelle Pressley followed with a three-point play, pulling the Panthers within seven, 44-37, but Kylie Cook’s layup stopped the threat and Tech maintained its margin.

The Panthers rallied once more with five minutes to go as Nixon scored five straight points to make it a five-point game, 50-45, with 5:26 remaining.

Kylie Cook’s crucial 3-pointer with 5:08 to go stemmed that threat. Once again, Nixon made it a five-point difference with a 3-pointer in the final minute to make it 61-56 with 52 seconds left before Hayes and Heady each drained a pair of free tosses to preserve the win.