CHARLESTON, Ill. – A pair of freshmen came up with big plays and crucial numbers Thursday to help the Tennessee Tech women's basketball team survive another road contest as the Golden Eagles claimed a 60-56 Ohio Valley Conference victory at Eastern Illinois.
Molly Heady (shown in photo) led Tech with 17 points and grabbed five rebounds, while point guard Briana Jordan added 10 points, six rebounds, four assists and three steals. Jordan drained a crucial 3-pointer late in the game and knocked down two free throws with 16 seconds remaining when her team was nursing a precarious, two-point lead.
The win kept the Golden Eagles in first place in the OVC with a 9-1 record, and improved Tech to 8-3 this season on the road. Tech's overall record jumped to 15-4 with their sixth consecutive win.
Eastern Illinois, the team picked to win the conference title in the preseason poll, slipped to 5-5 in the OVC and 9-11 overall.
"Eastern Illinois is a dangerous team, so we're excited about getting this win," said second-year TTU coach Sytia Messer. "To be able to come in here and get a win will make a difference as far as where our program is headed."
Messer had praise for Heady and Jordan for their role in the win.
"Briana Jordan stepped up big and Molly Head was huge," Messer said. "I was really proud of the players who stepped up tonight, and I'm proud of our freshmen for playing the way they did. They made some big baskets for us, and they defended well."
In addition to the two freshmen in double figures, junior Rachel Glidden (photo at right) added 14. Leading scorer Tacarra Hayes was limited to four points but the junior chipped in 10 rebounds in the victory. Kylie Cook added seven rebounds and three blocked shots.
Eastern Illinois was led by sophomore Ta'Kenya Nixon with 15 points, nine rebounds, three steals and four assists. Kelsey Wyss also hit double-figures with 11 points, while Sydney Mitchell added eight points and 11 rebounds. Chantelle Pressley finished with six points and seven rebounds and Mariah King added six points and six rebounds.
The game was tied nine times, including 45-45 with 10:34 remaining when Jordyne Crunk drained a jumper for the Panthers to knot the game for what proved to be the final time.
Jordan's 3-pointer with 9:14 to play proved to be the shot that pushed Tech into a lead it never relinquished at 48-45. A Hayes layup made it 50-45, before Nixon's shot with 8:14 left brought EIU back to within three, 50-47.
Glidden and Kylie Cook hit baskets for Tech about a minute apart, opening a seven-point advantage at 54-47 with 6:09 to go.
The Panthers got back to within four following one free throw by Nixon and a jumper by Mitchell to make it 54-50 with 5:46 left. Heady and Mitchell exchanged baskets, keeping the difference at four, before Heady took a pass from Hayes and scored a layup with 4:14 remaining to rebuild a six-point edge, 58-52.
Tech lost a couple of turnovers and Wyss hit a 3-pointer with 3:34 remaining to make it a one-possession game, 58-55. A free throw by King made it 58-56, but the Panthers missed their next three shots, including a potential go-ahead 3-pointer with 24 seconds left.
Jordan was fouled with 16 seconds left and calmly made both shots for the four-point advantage.
Game No. 4 on the tam's longest road swing of the season comes Saturday at 4 p.m. in Cape Girardeau, Mo., when Tech visits Southeast Missouri State in the Show Me Center.
After that, the Golden Eagles – ranked 24th among NCAA mid-major programs -- come back to Cookeville to play five of their final seven OVC games in Eblen Center. Tech hosts Eastern Kentucky Thursday and Morehead State on Saturday.
Visit the Athletics Ticket Office in Eblen Center or call (931) 372-3940 for ticket information.
Photos courtesy of Tony Marable