By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information Coordinator
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – What if I told you that the Tennessee Tech men's basketball team overcame a 13-point, second-half deficit to defeat North Florida, 82-80? And that the Ospreys were undefeated at home this season. And UNF was on a five-game win streak. And North Florida was coming off arguably its biggest win in its Division I history after beating Purdue on the road. What if I told you?
For the second time this season, the Golden Eagles showed not just resilience, but almost a defiance of some sort in overcoming a double-digit, second-half deficit to claim a huge victory.
A tight contest for much of the first 20 minutes, North Florida closed out the first half on 10-0 run, taking a 41-32 lead into the locker room and leaving the Golden Eagle squad with two choices. Quit and see its road trip start with two losses, or fight back and gut out a very important road victory over a very talented program.
Tech chose the latter, chipping away at the UNF lead after seeing it bulge into a 13 point advantage. With steady play from a plethora of Golden Eagle players, the Golden Eagles fought and scrapped their way to a seven-point lead with just under three minutes left in the game.
And that's when things really got interesting.
UNF's Jalen Nesbitt made a layup to cut the lead to five and after a Tech turnover, found himself at the free throw line. He made the first attempt, but couldn't connect on the second attempt. Senior Javon McKay grabbed the rebound and kicked it forward to Torrance Rowe. The junior guard hit senior Dwan Caldwell with a quick pass for a transition dunk and six-point lead with just over one minute to play.
Three missed 3-point attempts by North Florida seemed to put the game completely out of reach, but a layup by UNF's Dallas Moore with 16 seconds to play cut the lead down to four points once again.
Enter redshirt freshman Mason Ramsey, a native of Livingston, Tenn. who prior to checking into the game after the UNF field goal, had not seen the floor. It didn't matter. Ramsey collected Tech's inbounds pass and was immediately fouled, heading to the charity stripe with a chance to ice the game.
The freshman made the first, giving Tech a five-point lead. Ramsey's second attempt just barely rattled out, giving the Ospreys the ball with 16 seconds. They quickly got the ball to their top scorer, Moore, who promptly drained a fade-away trey with a hand in his face. Just like that, the Tech lead was down to two with just over nine seconds to play.
Once again, Ramsey collected the ball and earned a trip to the foul line. He sank both free throw attempts like it was a practice in the middle of July, a stone-face look on his face. Tech was now up four again.
But if you could believe it, Dallas Moore had one more shot up his sleeve, knocking down yet another strongly contested, fade-away 3-pointer. With 1.4 seconds left, Tech's lead was down to one. One last foul sent Golden Eagle senior Jordan Johnson to the line. The Atlanta, Ga. native connected on his first attempt. The Golden Eagles were now up 82-80.
His second attempt just rimmed out, but a rebound by Chris Davenport and a dribble attempt to set up a near-full court heave ate up the final 1.4 seconds. The Golden Eagles had finished off the comeback.
Eight Tech players scored six or more points, distributing the scoring all across the lineup. Caldwell led the squad with 14 points, adding 10 rebounds for his second career double-double with Charles Jackson sidelined for all but 13 minutes due to foul trouble.
Josiah Moore dropped 12 points off the bench, hitting two of the team's four 3-pointers on the night. Jackson still managed 10 points on the night, hitting five of his eight attempts from the floor while also adding two steals.
Guards Torrance Rowe and Shirmane Thomas each tallied nine points and both Jordan Johnson and Anthony Morse each racked up eight points. Javon McKay pulled down a season-high nine rebounds, adding six points to the mix.
UNF's Dallas Moore scored a game-high 26 points, but was held off the scoreboard for a long stretch of the second half. Chris Davenport added 14 points and 17 rebounds and Jalen Nesbitt tallied 15 points.
Tech took the edge in rebounds, grabbing 38 in the game while also shooting over 50 percent in the contest. The Golden Eagles also shot 75 percent from the free throw line, a difference-making stat down the stretch.
With the win, Tech moved to 6-4 on the year and 1-4 on the road with a contest at the University of Tennessee next on the docket. Tech will travel to Knoxville on Friday, Dec. 19 for a 6 p.m. CT contest against the Volunteers.
Photo by Rich Schmitt