By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information Coordinator
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. - Nearly a decade and a half had passed since the Tennessee Tech men's basketball team faced off against in-state rival Chattanooga, but it was 13 years well worth the wait.
The Golden Eagles fought back from a 19-point deficit early in the second half to pull off one of the most improbable victories in Tech history, defeating the Mocs 69-67.
The largest comeback in the past 20 years for the Tech squad really gained momentum at the 8:31 mark after a Dwan Caldwell layup cut the UTC lead down to 10 points. The big man followed with a block on the other end of the court and the fastbreak was on.
With the crowd deeply invested and beginning to make an impact, the Mocs called for timeout. It didn't matter.
Caldwell stayed in a defensive trance, recording steals on back-to-back possessions that led to fastbreak layups for junior Torrance Rowe (arguably the hero of the evening) and freshman Aleksa Jugovic. Suddenly the Golden Eagles trailed just four.
UTC managed to push the lead back to seven with as few as five minutes remaining, but a devastating Tech defense kept up the pressure. Finally, with just under 1:30 to play, Moore notted up the score for the first time since the tip, making a layup. 65-65.
Two missed shots later, the Golden Eagles found themselves with a chance to win the game with 46 seconds on the clock. Rowe provided the biggest moment of his career, draining a deep three to give Tech its first lead of the contest, 68-65, with just 31 second to go.
The Mocs tried for the quick two, converting a dunk with just eight seconds to play. A foul led Caldwell to the charity stripe where the big man sunk one-of-two attempts. Tech 69. Chattanooga 67. Seven seconds. One possession.
A last second prayer fell short and the Golden Eagle triumphed for a huge come-from-behind victory, moving to 2-1 on the year and sending the Mocs to a 1-3 mark.
The second half flat-out belonged to Tech as the Golden Eagles outscored (43-24), outrebounded (22-12), outshot (50 percent to 42.1 percent) and outprotected (11 UTC turnovers, 4 Tech turnovers) the Mocs.
Rowe led all scorers with his best career performance by far, dropping 18 points and dishing out three assists in 32 minutes of action. He also hit the biggest shot of the night, draining the go-ahead 3-pointer that ultimately doomed the UTC squad in what has to once again be known as the "Temple of Doom."
Charles Jackson finished with his third consecutive double-double to start the season, joining TTU Sports Hall of Famer Damien Kinloch as the only other player since 1984-85 to start his career with three straight double-doubles. Jackson tallied 15 points and 11 boards while adding a career-best four blocks.
Caldwell posted a strong night, leading both team with four steals. He racked up nine points and seven rebounds while providing a huge spark defensively that keyed the Tech comeback.
The Golden Eagles are back in action on Monday night as they host Southeastern Louisiana in a 6 p.m. CT affair in the Eblen Center.
Photo by Jim Dillon