By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – A record-setting night propelled the Tennessee Tech men's basketball team to an easy victory in the Eblen Center Thursday evening, as the Golden Eagles (2-7) made it rain from 3-point range on their way to a 118-60 decision over Warren Wilson College (5-8).
"We did some things on defense that we haven't been doing consistently and I was pleased with that," Tech head coach Steve Payne said. "We moved the ball and shared the ball as we had 27 assists. That's a good number and that's a plus. Corey [Tillery] hitting shots certainly helps, but there were some other good things involved there. I'm happy, I'm pleased, and we needed a night like this. It usually comes early in the year because of the schedule we have. We took some hard L's when we weren't ready for them. I try to use this game as practice, and I was on the guys late in the game about every possession being important. If we use this game the right way, we'll get better and we'll be OK going forward. The important thing, however, is our mental approach to everything."
Tillery, a junior guard, led the offensive onslaught with a Golden Eagle program record 10 3-pointers on 14 attempts. He finished with a Tech career-high 30 points and tied his own personal mark of 10 triples in a single game set when he was a freshman at Armstrong State. The previous Tech mark of eight was held by three players.
"It's a feeling that's just really hard to describe," Tillery said. "When you see the fourth or fifth one go down, you just kind of go unconscious. Every time you catch it, you just want to put it up. The best thing about it was, when I caught fire, my teammates were looking for me. Every time I came down the court, I saw them looking out the corner of their eyes, checking to see if I was there. That was a great feeling that they wanted me to have the ball."
Tillery's 3-point effort also tied the Ohio Valley Conference single-game record for makes beyond the arc, matching the performances of Eastern Illinois' Marc Polite (1999-00), Eastern Kentucky's Glenn Cosey (2013-14) and Belmont's Nick Smith (2016-17). His 10 treys tied him for fourth in the nation for most in a single game this season.
"I had no idea until after the game was over," Tillery said of breaking the Tech mark. "Cade mentioned it to me when I was on the bench towards the end but he didn't know what the number was for sure. I had no idea until afterwards, but it's just something else that I can put into my book."
He also broke the school record for 3-point field goal percentage with at least 10 attempts, hitting a 71.4 percent on the night. As a team, the Golden Eagles knocked down 16-of-35 tries from deep, tying for the second-most makes in school history with the 1999-2000 squad, which also set the record with 18.
"That's growth to find him," Payne said. "The conscious decision from Johnnie [Vassar], from Jr. [Clay], from Hunter [Vick], those younger guards. They made a conscious effort to find him. That's growth. I told them if he doesn't get seven looks a game between our guards penetrating and finding him, then we're not doing our job. Corey may not go 10-for-16 every night, but if he gets 15, 16 good looks, he's going to hit a good number. We'll take that. I still want him to get fouled more and to play not just as a shooter, but as a scorer. He's really quick and good with the ball. We want him to handle the ball and try to get guys off-balance and attack a little bit and be a playmaker some. He has the ability to do some of that, but growth was finding him, sharing the basketball. I've always known that he can shoot the basketball. That's kind of the gig – he's not in there to get a lot of rebounds. He's in there to score and shoot the basketball. But I'm proud of our team for finding him – that's how you get 27 assists a night."
The team's 118 points marked the most in the Steve Payne era and the most since the 1999-2000 team set the school record with 131. It also represents the fifth-highest scoring total in program history.
Defensively, the Golden Eagles held a block party in the paint, rejecting a whopping 12 shots on the night. The total marked the second-highest in program history, just one shy of tying the school record. Tech recorded 12 blocks five other times previously and 13 twice, all during the Lorenzo Coleman era (1993-97). Coleman recorded an OVC-record 439 blocks during his career.
Eleven players suited up for the purple and gold on the night, with each hauling in at least one rebound, 10 scoring at least five points, nine dishing out at least one assist, seven recording at least one steal and seven rejecting at least one shot.
"We've only got 11 players dressed," Payne said. "Cade [Crosland] is back now, and he's not back to 100 percent yet. He adds a lot to our team with his toughness and leadership and effort. His effort, man. That kid makes every effort to play every loose ball and that's what we need from more and more guys. Hopefully that will be infectious. Playing a lot of guys is important – playing a lot of guys when you're ahead is important, playing them when you're getting your brains beat in isn't much fun. Tonight, we got to celebrate a little bit. The important thing is that we use this to improve."
Senior big man Micaiah Henry just missed a double-double on the night, finishing 9-of-13 from the floor on his way to 21 points and nine rebounds, including seven on the offensive glass. He blocked two more shots as well, moving into the top-10 all-time in program history in career rejections.
Coming off his first career OVC Freshman of the Week honors, Jr. Clay barley missed his own double-double, scoring 14 points while dishing out a career-high nine assists, the most by a Tech player since Torrance Rowe posted 12 against Southeast Missouri during the 2015-16 season. Clay corralled six rebounds and added a block and a steal.
Fellow freshman Jared Sherfield turned in his first career double-double, snagging a season-high and team-best 12 rebounds to go along with his first-double digit scoring effort of 11 points. He made three seals and collected three assists as well.
As a team, Tech shot 57.9 percent from the field and 45.7 percent from 3-point range while holding the Owls to 33.3 and 27.3 percent, respectively. The Golden Eagles crashed the glass to the tune of 57 rebounds while also totaling 27 assists, 12 blocks and 13 steals.
Tech will return to action on Sunday, Dec. 9 in a 2:00 p.m. CT contest against Hiwassee College in the Eblen Center.
Photo by Thomas Corhern