Sacked by Zac! Golden Eagles skin Racers in OVC Tourney to reach title tilt

Sacked by Zac! Golden Eagles skin Racers in OVC Tourney to reach title tilt

Tech takes a shot a reaching the Dance; faces Morehead State on ESPN2 at 7 p.m.

By Thomas Cohern
Cookeville Herald-Citizen

NASHVILLE — It's been a while since the Tennessee Tech men have had a chance to play for the Ohio Valley Conference tournament championship — 2003, to be exact.

But the Tech men won that chance, upsetting the regular-season champ and tournament top-seed Murray State 64-59 on Friday night at Municipal Auditorium, advancing to the championship game of the OVC men's basketball tournament.

"The road to any OVC championship goes through Murray State," said Tech coach Mike Sutton. "That's been the course of the OVC for years. We were very fortunate. It was a hard-fought game. Both teams fought hard and it probably wasn't a pretty game — except on our side, it's always pretty when you win."

Tech (20-11) will play the winner of Austin Peay-Morehead State, which was in progress as of this report. If the Golden Eagles win on Saturday, it would give them their first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 1963.

With the win, Tech became the fourth OVC team to win 20 games this season, setting a conference record. The win also breaks Tech's four-game losing streak in the tournament semifinals, and is the Golden Eagles' first appearance in the title game since 2003.

The win also gave Tech its first win over Murray State since January 2009.

The Golden Eagles' defense stole the show, holding the regular-season champ Racers to a 3-for-18 performance from 3-point range, adding to a 33.3 percent (17-of-51) effort from the field.

"One of the things we wanted to do was defend the three perimeter players — (Issac) Miles, (B.J.) Jenkins, and (Isaiah) Cannon," Sutton said. "Those guys were all-conference performers. We wanted to defend them and not give them any looks. They missed some shots, and, obviously, the question will come up about them not playing (the Racers had the double-bye as regular-season champions) and those type of things — we don't know that or how that scenario will play out in a few years.

"You have to defend, rebound and execute. We held Murray to 33 percent. That's not a good shooting night for them. Hopefully some of that is our defense."

The Tech offense was led by Kevin Murphy with 19 points, while Jud Dillard had back-to-back double-doubles to go with the one against UT Martin on Thursday night.

Zac Swansey earned his "Mr. Clutch" label again, knocking down a 3-pointer with 24 seconds left, giving Tech a five-point, 60-55 lead. This was just minutes after Swansey went down after a foul, spraining his wrist. While Murray State's Miles was on the other end shooting foul shots, Swansey rushed back to the Tech bench to get the wrist wrapped.

After the 3-pointer, it was 24 seconds of just trying to fend off the Racers, but they couldn't get any closer than three points as Dillard and Murphy closed the game out on the line.

"That last 30 seconds was the longest 30 seconds I've had playing basketball," Swansey said. "There were so many posessions. We got a defensive rebound, and we all want to take good shots. We spread the floor. I give a lot of credit to Jud Dillard. He gave me a little bit of daylight so I could focus on the rim and knock it down."

Tech finished the game with a 48.9 shooting percentage, hitting 23 of its 47 shots. The Golden Eagles led 29-24 at the half, then kept pace with the Racers with each side scoring 35 points in the second half.

Ivan Aska ended the game with 15 points for the Racers (23-8), while Miles scored 11.

Now, Tech gets ready for the title game, and with two games already under their belt, the Golden Eagles feel ready to go.

"We'll see," Dillard said. "I think I've got a lot left in the tank. If my team needs me to do it, then I'll get another double-double, a triple-double, whatever."

Swansey added, "We're tired, yeah, but when you've worked this hard — we've been going since August when we started this journey with three-a-days, going to the Dominican Republic, two-a-days before the season started. It's what it comes down to. We've got to give it all we've got and leave nothing out there. I hope we come out victorious."