By Rob Schabert, Assistant Athletic Director for Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Tech women's basketball team left Eblen Center in a blaze of glory Monday night, claiming a heart-stopping, 63-61 victory over Southeast Missouri in its final home contest of the year.
The win, which wasn't determined until the final buzzer, clinched a spot in the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament in Nashville in two weeks.
Tech (11-16/8-6 OVC) was led by junior Diamond Henderson with 27 points, seven rebounds and five assists. Candace Parson had a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds, while Molly Heady added 11 points including perhaps the biggest basket of the night.
Her 3-pointer as the shot clock expired gave Tech an eight point lead with 3: 15 to play and provided just enough room for the Golden Eagles to escape with the win.
Kayla Brewer added six points, six rebounds and five blocked shots, giving her 54 blocked shots for the season and putting her one away from tying the school single-season record.
Southeast Missouri (9-19/5-10 OVC) got a huge night from Patricia Mack with 17 points, 18 rebounds and three blocked shots. Brianna Mitchell also reached double figures with 11 points, while Jordan Hunter finished with eight points and four assists.
The win was Tech's sixth in a row over the Redhawks.
Golden Eagle coach Jim Davis took a calculated risk, sending post players Brewer and Parson back into the game with more than six minutes remaining, each carrying four fouls and Tech gripping a slim, three-point lead.
His decision paid off as SEMO was forced into three consecutive turnovers and a missed shot. Henderson hit a jumper four a five-point edge before Heady's crunch-time bomb.
With the shot clock nearly empty, the senior caught a pass at the top of the key and immediately launched a shot with a defender in her face, and it caught nothing but net for a 60-52 lead with 3:15 to play.
SEMO got a three-point play by Connor King and a layup from Mack with 1:25 to play to trim Tech's lead to three. Another layup from Mack with 53 seconds left made it a one-point game.
Henderson hit two free throws and King did the same with 19 seconds left, making it 62-61.
Henderson made one more free throw with 16 seconds left for a 63-61 lead, setting up SEMO's final chance. The Redhawks worked the ball across midcourt and called timeout to set up a play.
Their effort nearly worked as Hunter drove toward the left baseline then fired a pass to Mack at the free throw line, but her shot drew iron and Goolsby snapped down the rebound with less than a second to go.
A key factor in Tech's win was protecting the ball in the second half. After 11 turnover in the first half, Tech had only one miscue in the final 20 minutes. SEMO had four turnovers in the first half and nine in the second.
Parson took control of the boards early and Tech used a 12-2 run to fight back from an early 8-2 deficit and pull ahead, 14-8 with 13:17 to play. Parson had six in that stretch.
The Golden Eagles maintained the lead for much of the first half, going up by as many as eight points , but never reaching double figures. A 22-14 margin was the largest of the half, when Henderson made two free throws with 7:48 to play.
The Redhawks came battling back with a 10-2 run late in the half, taking a 30-29 lead on a layup by Kenyada Brown with 2:11 remaining. A 3-pointer by Jordan Wright with 24 seconds left made it a 35-32 SEMO lead at halftime.
The Redhawks shot just 22.6 percent (7-for-31) in the first half from the field but countered with an 18-for-21 effort at the free throw line. SEMO had only four turnovers in the opening half while Tech had 11. Tech was 10-for-11 at the line and held a 25-20 edge in rebounds, but was whistled for 15 fouls.
The Golden Eagles head north to Kentucky for two games later this week to close the regular season, contests that will ultimately determine the seeding for the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament.
Tech plays at Eastern Kentucky Thursday evening and at Morehead State Saturday evening. Both games are the opening tilts in doubleheaders, to be followed by men's contests between the two schools.