COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – Brittany Darling simply took over. With two of the league's leading candidates for Player of the Year on the floor, it was Darling's massive effort late in the first half that led Tennessee Tech to a rib-rattling 82-70 victory over Morehead State Saturday in the Eblen Center in front of a raucous crowd.
The 6-foot-5 junior recorded career-highs of 20 points and 15 rebounds, and added four blocked shots, as the Golden Eagles won their ninth straight. The win also avenged Tech's only loss in conference play this season, a 25-point setback in Morehead in early January.
Most importantly, the victory pushed Tech (18-4) to a two-game lead in the Ohio Valley Conference race with a 12-1 league record. Morehead State went to 17-7 overall and 10-3 in the OVC.
Darling's big night overshadowed the play of Morehead State's Chynna Bozeman, the preseason OVC Player of the Year, and Tech's Tacarra Hayes, considered one of the top candidates for league Player of the Year honors.
Both of those standout players had a huge impact on the game, Bozeman leading her team back into contention late in the contest and Hayes helping to stifle the rally. Bozeman wound up with 29 points, six rebounds and five assists for MSU, while Hayes countered with 18 points, six rebounds and seven assists.
Tech also got 18 points from freshman Molly Heady, who hit 4-for-5 from 3-point land, nine points and six rebounds from Rachel Glidden, and nine points and five assists from freshman Briana Jordan.
Joining Bozeman in double digits for MSU were Ashar Harris with a double-double of 15 points and 13 rebounds, and Courtney Lumpkin with 15 points, five rebounds and five assists. Freshman Allie Turner added nine points.
The Golden Eagles shot 50.9 percent from the field (29-for-57) and had a 45-36 advantage on the glass. Morehead State shot 32 percent (24-for-75).
Morehead State had the upper hand for the first 15 minutes, going on top by as many as seven points. The Eagles' largest lead of the first half came with 12:57 remaining when Courtney Lumpkin's four consecutive free throws made it a 14-7 lead.
A Lumpkin jumper with 5:05 to play in the half broke a 23-23 tie and gave MSU a 25-23 lead, but it proved to be the final time in the contest that the visitor's side of the scoreboard had a larger number.
Darling went to work underneath, scoring 14 consecutive points and Tech turned the tide with a 12-0 run. Another Darling layup with seven seconds remaining sent the Golden Eagles to the break with a 10-point, 37-27 lead.
The Golden Eagles kept things rolling in the second half, feeding off the crowd's enthusiasm to build their lead to as many as 19 points. A three-point play by Hayes with 7:21 remaining pushed Tech's edge to 63-44.
But Bozeman & Co. went to work over the next three minutes with a 15-4 run that cut Tech's lead down to eight, 67-59, with just under four minutes to go. Bozeman scored 10 in the stretch, including a pair of her five 3-pointers.
With her team fighting to hold its margin, Hayes made a key play with a steal that she turned into a layup and free throw, and the three-point play gave Tech a renewed double-figure lead at 70-59.
The Golden Eagles went 8-for-8 at the line in the final two minutes to preserve the win.
Tech, which improved to 9-1 at home, goes on the road for its next two games. On Thursday, the Golden Eagles play at Murray State and on Saturday will visit UT Martin. Tech is 9-3 this season on the road.
The next home game for Tech comes on Thursday, Feb. 17, when Tennessee State visits for a single game beginning at 7 p.m.