By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – An overall team effort from top to bottom led the Tennessee Tech men's basketball team to its second straight win Sunday afternoon, as the Golden Eagles (3-7) cruised to a 97-60 victory over visiting Hiwassee College (7-8).
For the second consecutive contest, Tech shot over 50 percent from the field and 70 percent from the charity stripe. TTU won the battle on the glass, snagging 44 over Hiwassee's 31. The Golden Eagles also improved on the turnover battle.
After making 24 against Warren Wilson on Thursday, the purple and gold turned it over just 15 times while forcing the Tigers into 24. The Golden Eagles tallied a season-high 17 steals, turning them into 32 fast break points.
"Anytime you win two games in a week, I don't care who you're playing, you have to be pleased," Tech head coach Steve Payne said. "I'm happy. I'd like to keep getting better and better. I still think we turned the ball over way too much for a game like that, but I'm very happy with our team."
The Golden Eagles received a ton of support from the bench on the day, with the Tech subs accounting for 51 points. That bench production led to seven Tech players scoring at least nine points and two more tallying seven. A total of 12 Golden Eagles saw the floor, with 11 snagging a rebound.
"I am pleased with our depth," Payne explained. "Our young guys, you can see some talent. I'd like for us to be a little more physical around the backboard. I'd like for us to be a little more energetic at times. Our older guys don't always snap, crackle, pop with energy, which they should. But they don't, so when they don't I'm going to play those younger guys and let them make the mistakes that they make and let them go. Tonight, I was going to sub more, but when that group went in at the 15 minute mark of the second half and played with so much passion, I just let them play until they were asking to come out. I have to reward guys when they do the right thing."
Part of that group to sub in the second half was the Special Olympics Player of the Game, Vassar. The Northwestern transfer erupted for a career-high 20 points, including 16 during a six-minute stretch after checking in. His performance helped extend the Tech lead from 19 to 35, as the Chicago native poured in 16 of the team's 18 points during the stretch.
"I'm getting there," Vassar said about getting comfortable with his role with the Golden Eagles. "The team's done a great job, because as you know, I've been out for a while. I've just been trying to get back in the pace of everything and I'm getting there. I don't really take it as pressure because I'm on the court again. I don't care what I'm asked to do, if I'm on the court, I'm happy."
Vassar finished the contest with a game-high 20 points and five rebounds in 18 minutes. Junior big man Micaiah Henry chipped in 11 points on 4-for-4 shooting and three free throws while freshman point guard Jr. Clay tallied 10 points and five rebounds.
Courtney Alexander II posted nine points and a team-high seven rebounds. Also scoring nine on the night were Hunter Vick, who tied for the team-lead with five assists, Jared Sherfield and Garrett Golday, both of whom snagged four steals.
Making his Golden Eagle debut after sitting out the first nine games of the season due to injury was graduated transfer Malik Martin. The former USF big man played 18 minutes off the bench, scoring seven points on 3-for-5 shooting.
"I see us on the court and off the court," Vassar said of the team starting to click. "We're bonded as one. We hang out together, and that translates to on the court and you kind of saw that, even in the previous game. Corey [Tillery] went off last game. It's just find the open guy. I think we just play well together and we're getting better and better each day and game."
The Golden Eagles will look to make it three wins in-a-row when they hit the road for a tilt with Kennesaw State. Tech will visit the Owls on Saturday, Dec. 15 for a 3:00 p.m. CT affair in Kennesaw, Ga.
Photo by Thomas Corhern