By Layne Weitzel, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – There was a different vibe inside the Hooper Eblen Center on Thursday night as Tennessee Tech faced the Austin Peay Governors.
The Golden Eagles must have felt it too, defeating Austin Peay 63-59 to snap a five-game losing streak and grab their first conference win of the season. APSU (10-6), on the road for the first time in OVC play, dropped to 3-2 in the league standings.
"I'm really happy for our kids," said head coach Kim Rosamond. "I thought it was a great and a total team win. Our bench tonight was huge – not only the kids that came in off the bench, but the kids and our energy on the bench. We talked about being the toughest team tonight, playing the hardest and playing the smartest, and I thought we did a great job at doing that."
While Tech (4-12, 1-4 OVC) has mainly been a second-half team this season, its energy was evident starting at the opening tip-off. The Golden Eagles held strong on both sides of the floor, shooting 40.9 percent in the first half and holding Austin Peay to a measly 16.1 percent (including just 6.7 percent in the second quarter). Tech senior Yaktavia "Shug" Hickson stormed off to collect nine rebounds, surpassing her season-high of eight just in the first half of play. Tech headed into the locker room up 26-14, holding its first halftime lead since the Winthrop game on Dec. 19.
As Rosamond said, Tech's bench played a huge role in tonight's game especially. The Golden Eagles, who were without Abby Buckner due to a medical issue, turned to Makenzie Iles, Lacy Cantrell and Brittany Cooper to provide some crucial minutes, especially when Tech starters Hickson and MacKenzie Coleman got into foul trouble.
And provide they did – Iles, Cantrell and Cooper combined for 14 points and six rebounds off the bench. Cooper in particular gave Tech huge jolts of energy in her 15 minutes on the floor, which marked a career-high, and individually totaled four points, three rebounds and two assists. She was named tonight's First National Bank of Tennessee-Special Olympics Player of the Game.
"You just have to be ready at all times," said Cooper. "I didn't do it for myself. I did it for my team. At the end of the day, they're my sisters and they have my back, so they needed me to have their back tonight. I just wanted to do my job for them."
Statistically, Tech had a lot to smile about by the game's end. The Golden Eagles held Austin Peay to a field goal percentage of 31.0 – APSU had entered tonight averaging 41.5 percent. Individually, Jordan Brock led the team with 17 points, hitting her 38th, 39th and 40th 3-pointer of the season. Hickson ended just shy of a double-double with eight points and a season-high 10 rebounds, the most of any player. Coleman followed offensively with 15 points, while Asia Harper and Akia Harris each collected six rebounds. Save for Kentoria Alexander, who entered the game in the last minute, every Tech player who saw the floor on Thursday night scored.
"Our preparation the last two weeks, even with the two disappointing losses last week, has been as good as it's been, and it carried over this week," said Rosamond. "I can't say enough about the attitude of our kids and the culture in our locker room right now. This is a time where teams can either come together or they can fall apart, and I think our team is coming together in a very strong way."