By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – Second-half turnovers and a four-minute cold spell on offense proved to be the difference in the home opener for the Tennessee Tech men's basketball team, as visiting Presbyterian defeated the Golden Eagles in the Eblen Center Saturday evening, 80-65.
Trailing by nine at halftime, Tech (0-2) came out of the break chipping away at the Blue Hose (1-1) lead, pulling to within 47-42 with 14:33 to play in the contest. Presbyterian took advantage of the next four minutes, a span that saw the Golden Eagles commit six turnovers and shoot 0-for-3 from the floor. The visitors increased their advantage to 16 in that span, never allowing the Golden Eagles back to within single digits.
"We ran into a team tonight that was hungry," said Tech head coach Steve Payne. "Their staff was hungry for a win. They're a veteran team coming off an uplifting year for them last year. Our guys didn't know how to respond to it and didn't do a very good job responding to it."
Tech shot a solid 46.4 percent from the floor and 44.4 percent from 3-point range in the first half, but Presbyterian more than matched the effort, firing at a 50 percent clip from downtown to convert eight triples.
"Defensively in the first half, I had just way too many thoughts in their heads instead of just letting them play hard and getting in the right position," Payne explained. "That's not fair to those younger guys. Last year we were able to do some different things with older guys who could talk and communicate their way through it. We're not there yet with this team. That's on our staff and that's on me. In the second half, we freed them up a little bit and simplified things and we played a lot better defensively."
The Golden Eagles finished the contest with eight blocks and four steals on the defensive end and held the Blue Hose to just 1-for-5 shooting from deep after the team's first-half barrage. Tech also out-rebounded Presbyterian in the second half, 22-17. The visitors owned the advantage in the game, however, 40-33.
Named the Special Olympics Player of the Game, senior forward Courtney Alexander II set a career-high with 17 points, adding 11 rebounds on top to tally his first double-double of the season. He led Tech in both categories on the night, finishing 7-for-11 from the field.
Freshman Jr. Clay put up an impressive day on offense, scoring 14 points on 4-for-8 shooting while adding four assists. Corey Tillery had the hot hand working from deep, knocking down 4-of-7 attempts from beyond the arc. He finished with 12 points.
Overall, Tech finished the contest shooting 41.5 percent from the field and 36.8 percent from deep. Presbyterian forced the Golden Eagles into 15 turnovers on the night while Tech forced 13 by the Blue Hose.
"We're still figuring it out a little bit, but I like this team," Payne said. "I don't think this is who we are. Our answer to this is to work harder in practice tomorrow. If that's who we are, we have a lot of work to do and it's a long season with time to improve. If that's not who we are, we still have a lot of work to do and we'll prove it as the season wears on."
Photo by Tony Marable