Golden Eagle defense comes up huge in comeback victory at Eastern Kentucky

Golden Eagle defense comes up huge in comeback victory at Eastern Kentucky

By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information

RICHMOND, Ky. – A late, 6-0 run over the final minute of regulation helped lead the Tennessee Tech men's basketball team to a 70-67 victory at Eastern Kentucky Thursday evening, a contest not short of a thrilling finish.

The Golden Eagles (13-7, 5-2) forced three huge turnovers over that final stretch, including two five-second calls on inbounds plays. While unable to convert on any field goal attempts over that span, Tech did knock down six free-throw attempts to earn its second victory over the Colonels (8-12, 2-5) this season.

Trailing 67-64 with just under 90 seconds to play, the Colonels forced a Tech turnover and took a timeout on their side of the court. On the ensuing inbounds play, the Tech defense smothered the Colonel offense, forcing a team turnover on the home squad and taking over with 1:14 on the clock.

Graduate guard Kajon Mack drove to the rack on the following play, drawing a foul and heading to the line for a couple of freebies. The veteran sank both tries, cutting the EKU lead to 67-66 with 53 seconds to play.

Eastern Kentucky inbounded the ball to perennial All-OVC honoree Nick Mayo, who tried to pass the ball up court to one of his guards. Graduate transfer Shaq Calhoun made an incredible defensive play, spearing the two-handed pass right in Mayo's face, knocking the ball straight into the air. He then out-fought the 6-foot-9 forward on a pseudo jump ball to complete the huge steal.

Driving into the paint, Mack missed a short jumper that would have given Tech the lead, but sophomore Micaiah Henry was there to clean up the miss and maintain the possession. He was then fouled on a dunk attempt with 24 seconds to go, heading to the line for two tries.

Henry would watch as both attempts rattled out of the rim and the Colonels gained possession with a defensive rebound with 21 seconds to play. Calhoun nearly came up with another steal, knocking the ball loose, but unfortunately out of bounds. An official review resulted in the ball staying in possession of EKU.

Once again, the Tech defense stepped up, blanketing the Colonel offense for a second time in the past minute to force another five-second count and EKU turnover. With 18 seconds to play, Mack once again attacked the rim; and once again, he drew a foul.

The point guard sank both attempts again, providing the Golden Eagles a 68-67 advantage. The Colonels brought the ball up the court and worked it into a corner for 3-point specialist Dillon Avare. The try bounced off the rim and into a mess of big men fighting for the ball. EKU forward DeAndre Dishman snagged it and drew a foul in the process.

As it was just Tech's ninth foul of the half, Dishman would head to the line for the 1-and-1 opportunity trailing by one and with just two seconds left on the clock. The big man's attempt careened off the back iron and into the hands of Mack, who then bear-hugged the ball and held on as he was fouled with four tenths of a second to play.

The Golden Eagle vet sank both attempts and watched with his teammates as the EKU "Hail Mary" try missed. In the end, the scoreboard indicated a 70-67 victory for the visitors, a massive road win in the first half of Tech's annual "Death Valley" road trip.

Mack led Tech with 17 points in the game, converting on all 11 of his free throws. He also led the team with four assists and two steals while adding four boards. Senior forward Curtis Phillips Jr. tallied 13 points while connecting on three of his six tries from deep.

Limited to just 22 minutes because of early and late foul trouble, senior forward Mason Ramsey still scored 10 points and hauled in a team-high six rebounds. Sophomore transfer Corey Tillery posted a season-high 10 points off the bench while also snagging five boards. Calhoun finished with seven points, four rebounds, three assists, two blocks and the huge steal.

Dishman led EKU with 18 points while Dujuanta Weaver and A.J. Youngman each posted 14. Mayo added 12 points for the home team.

The Golden Eagles will wrap up the "Death Valley" road stretch with a trip to Morehead State Saturday afternoon. The two rivals are scheduled to tip off at 3:15 p.m. CT in Morehead, Ky.

Photo by Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information