By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information Coordinator
CHARLESTON, Ill. – Just 16 seconds separated the Tennessee Tech men's basketball team from a perfect 1-0 start to Ohio Valley Conference play Thursday evening, as Charles Jackson converted the second of his two free throw attempts to give the Golden Eagles a 59-54 advantage.
Eastern Illinois had other plans for the New Year. The Panthers proceeded to race down the court and have Reggie Smith connect on a 3-pointer to cut the Tech lead to just one with nine seconds to play.
Timeout EIU. Out of the break, the Golden Eagles attempted to inbound the ball to Dwan Caldwell. But the big man never could quite corral the pass and the ball flew off his finger tips and out of bounds, giving the Panthers the ball right in front of their bench.
After substitutions, Eastern Illinois managed to get the ball to its own big man, Chris Olivier, who drew a foul from Jackson to go to the line with a chance to take the lead. He converted the first attempt. 59-59. The second shot clanged off the rim and mayhem ensued.
With the ball bobbling among the hands of several players on both sides, Dylan Chatman finally corralled it outside the 3-point line for the Panthers. Shirmane Thomas and Josiah Moore appeared to trap Chatman with just seconds left on the clock and overtime looking like a certainty.
But the referee's whistle sounded with 1.6 ticks on the board and a foul was called on Moore. Following a Tennessee Tech timeout, Chatman went to the line and drained both free throws to give EIU a 61-59 lead.
The Golden Eagles had one final chance. Miraculously, a full-court inbounds pass from Caldwell found the hands of Moore. With two men on him, Moore pivoted and rose for a 3-point shot, looking to get bodied along the way. But no whistle blew and the ball fell just short of the rim. The Panthers had stolen the game.
Tech nearly overcame a cold shooting stroke on the night by beating Eastern Illinois on the glass, out-rebounding the Panthers 43-31. Tech also shot solid from the charity stripe, connecting on 70 percent of its free throws compared to just 47.4 percent for EIU.
EIU's Chris Olivier led all scorers with 22 points on the night, going 8-for-11 from the floor. LeTreel Viser and Reggie Smith each added 11 for the Panthers as well.
After missing the last contest with an ankle injury, Torrance Rowe returned to lead the Tech offense, scoring 16 points and taking over the game late. He finished 6-of-12 from the field, dishing out three assists and grabbing two rebounds.
Jackson had another monster night on the boards, collecting 15 rebounds just three days after corralling 16 against North Florida. He tallied seven points as well after being limited to just seven minutes in the first half due to foul trouble.
Dwan Caldwell also scored in double digits, racking up 12 points and hauling in eight rebounds over a team-high 35 minutes of action.
The Golden Eagles will look to even their Ohio Valley Conference record Saturday night when the team takes on SIUE in Edwardsville, Ill. The 6:30 p.m. CST contest is once again a part of a doubleheader with the Tennessee Tech women's basketball team, which will tip off against the Cougars at 2 p.m.
Photo by Rich Schmitt