By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – Fourty minutes of see-saw basketball ended in victory for the Tennessee Tech men's basketball team Sunday afternoon, as the Golden Eagles (8-4) pulled away late defeat in-state rival Chattanooga (5-6), 82-76, in the Eblen Center.
"I'm excited about the win and the direction we're going," head coach Steve Payne said. "but, I felt like we looked like we had been off for a week, and that's my fault. I felt we were a little winded early and maybe not quite as ready as I'd like us to be. We turned it over way too much in the first half. In the second half, I thought they made some nice plays offensively, but we also struggled to guard them."
Fans were treated to an old-school, back-and-forth, bruising battle between two non-conference rivals. Fourty-nine fouls were called throughout the contest, including 15 on the Golden Eagles in the first half.
The contest saw a whopping 17 lead changes throughout the course of action, with neither team ever gaining a double-digit advantage. In fact, the Mocs largest lead of just three points came with 15 minutes to go in the first half. Tech never led by more than five until the five-minute mark in the second half.
Tech also made 12 turnovers over the first 20 minutes, limiting an otherwise successful offensive performance to just a five-point lead at the break, 36-31. The Golden Eagles shot 51.9 percent in the first half while holding the Mocs to just 33.3 percent.
The tables turned in the second stanza, with Chattanooga firing at a 63.6 percent clip to Tech's 44.1 percent showing from the floor. The big difference-maker for the home squad was ball security. The Golden Eagles made just three second-half turnovers while forcing nine on the Mocs.
"I do think our guys are pretty tough and resilient," Payne explained. "As long as we try to stay positive and together, we'll find a way to make a little run, and we did that. They did some things that really bothered us and they have some nice players. Twenty-two [Makinde London]; you'll go into most gyms and not find anybody better than that kid. They've played a lot of teams close and pretty well. They don't usually get themselves in trouble. We were fortunate their point guard got into some foul trouble and fouled out pretty early in the game. Our own foul trouble probably kept us from picking up the pressure once he was out."
The Special Olympics Player of the Game, sophomore Micaiah Henry, made his presence felt, particularly down the stretch for the Golden Eagles. The big man kept Tech in the game in the middle of the second half, scoring all of his season-high 14 points over the final 20 minutes.
He added three big rebounds and finished 2-of-3 at the charity stripe while being held to just 15 minutes of action due to first-half foul trouble.
Senior guard Aleksa Jugovic dropped 21 points on 6-for-11 shooting, including a 7-for-8 performance at the foul line. He also dished out two assists while knocking down a couple of 3-pointers.
Fellow senior Curtis Phillips Jr. added 12 points to the mix, hitting two, clutch 3-pointers in the second half that helped the Golden Eagles pull away. He also tied for the team lead with seven rebounds. Kajon Mack also hauled in seven board while finishing with 13 points and four assists.
Chattanooga's London scored 21 points, hitting four triples. James Lewis, Jr. posted a double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds.
The Golden Eagle bench outscored the Mocs' bench 25-4 in the contest.
"I'm really proud of our guys," Payne added. "I thought we did some uncharacteristic things. I don't think we played well, but did enough things well to win the game. I'm looking forward to getting back in here tomorrow and practicing the next couple of days and preparing to face Indiana."
Tech will close out its non-conference slate with a road tilt at the University of Indiana, Thursday evening at 6:00 p.m. CT. The contest will be televised on the Big Ten Network.
Photo by Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information