By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information Coordinator
CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas - Just when overtime had become all but a certainty, the Tennesse Tech men's basketball team saw its chance at an extra period dashed as Texas-Pan America's Shaquille Boga hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give UTPA an 81-78 victory in the first game of the Holliday Inn Downtown Marina Islanders Tournament.
Up by as many as nine points in the first half, the Golden Eagles saw its lead slowly dwindle through the last 14 minutes of the period as it became evident the Tech squad just wasn't at its usual strength. With several Tech players dealing with an undisclosed illness, the Broncs took advantage late in the first stanza, driving the ball into the lane, leaving the Golden Eagles no choice but to converge on the attack.
Texas-Pan American used that decision to make four straight jumpers to close out the half with Tech nipping at the heels, 44-39.
The Broncs came out firing in the second half, extending their lead to as much as 11 points with 15:40 to play. Tech refused to give in, despite racking up six fouls in the first 4:20 of the second stanza.
The Golden Eagle comeback started with a spark from JUCO transfer Ladon Carter, who finished with 17 points, six rebounds, and three monster rejections. With 15:09 to play in the game and Tech trailing 59-50, Carter grabbed a missed shot attempt midair and slammed it down with authority. He followed with an excellent hustle play, blocking a lay-up attempt by UTPA's Javorn Farrell clear into another zip code.
The back-to-back plays, combined with a substitution of junior Mitchell Hill into the game, sparked a tremendous defensive effort that would not give up the remainder of the contest. Following Hill's entrance into the game, the Golden Eagle put together four consecutive stops on the defensive side of the ball, holding the Broncs scoreless for over five minutes. In the game, Tech forced three shot-clock violations by UTPA, including two during the final 10 minutes of play.
UTPA would gather a 10-point advantage twice more in the second half, using a cold streak from the Tech offense to try and seal the game away. But once again, the Golden Eagles stayed resilient, using clutch offensive plays and a stone-wall defense to rally back.
Down five with 1:00 to play, senior point guard Jeremiah Samarrippas drove quickly down the floor, pulling up and draining a 3-pointer with 55.9 seconds left to cut the lead to 78-76. Samarrippas would finish the contest with 13 points and team-highs in both assists (seven) and steals (three).
Head coach Steve Payne called his final timeout immediately following the bucket, and used the 60 seconds to draw up a brilliant defensive scheme that the Golden Eagles ran to perfection. On the ensuing in-bounds play, Samarrippas nabbed a loose ball and tossed it to redshirt sophomore Josiah Moore. The one-time transfer from Nebraska layed the ball in to tie things at 78 with just 48.1 seconds left in regulation.
Both teams would trade possessions before the Broncs took over with 4.5 ticks left on the clock. Boga collected the inbounds pass, drove up the left side of the floor and let a 45-foot prayer fly toward the hoop just before the final buzzer sounded. The ball banked in to give UTPA a stunning 81-78 victory.
The Broncs and Golden Eagles received offensive help from all over as each squad had four players in double-figures each. Josh Cleveland of UTPA led all scorers with 23 while Boga chipped in 17, Justin Leathers added 14, and Shaquille Hines finished with 11. Leathers also pulled down a game-high 12 rebounds.
For the Golden Eagles, Carter put together a mammoth-game, finishing several highlight-reel dunks and alley oops for a career-high 17 points to go along with three huge blocks and six clutch rebounds. Ranked fifth in the Ohio Valley Conference in scoring, Ty Allen did not disappoint, scoring 16 points on 50 percent shooting.
Matt Marseille contributed 11 points in his first start of the season, hitting all seven of his shot attempts from the charity stripe and grabbing four boards. Samarrippas finished with 13 points, seven assists, four rebounds, and three steals.
The Golden Eagles will have a quick turnover as they get ready to face tournament host Texas A&M-Corpus Christi in a 5:30 p.m. CT showdown tomorrow evening.