By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – Jr. Clay's last-second heave to try and force an extra period fell just short Saturday night, as the Tennessee Tech men's basketball team fell to Morehead State, 66-63, in the regular season home finale.
The Golden Eagles (7-22, 3-13) fought tooth-and-nail throughout the evening, actually taking a 37-30 lead into halftime thanks to great ball security. Tech made just two turnovers in the first half, taking advantage of their possessions to shoot 44 percent from the floor and blistering 54.5 percent from 3-point range.
Morehead State (11-18, 7-9) turned up the defensive pressure in the second half, forcing nine Golden Eagle miscues. The Eagles also snagged six more rebounds, providing extra shots that proved the difference down the stretch.
Tech fell behind as much as five points with 13 seconds to play, but trimmed it to three after Clay knocked down a pair of free throws at the 12-second mark. Tech fouled and Morehead State's Lamontray Harris split a pair at the line.
Jared Sherfield, the Special Olympics Player of the Game, hauled in the rebound on the missed attempt and flipped the ball to Clay, who drove the court and hit a circus shot in the paint to cut the deficit to two. He also was fouled on the play, heading to the charity stripe with a chance to make it a one-point game.
His attempt dinged off the rim and Harris corralled the loose ball for the Eagles. Another foul sent him to the line on the other side of the court, where he again missed one of his two attempts. After sinking the second, both teams traded timeouts to get set up for the final play of the game.
Clay inbounded the ball to Sherfield who passed it right back to a streaking Clay. The rookie point guard got a clean look from about 30-feet out, but the shot just missed its mark.
Sherfield turned in his second career performance in-a-row, becoming the third Tech freshman to score 20 points this season. He finished an eye-popping 7-for-9 from the field and 4-for-5 from 3-point range. He also grabbed a team-high seven rebounds, dished out three assists, did not make a turnover and hit both of his attempts at the charity stripe.
The rookie guard became the eighth different Golden Eagles with a 20-point outing this season.
Clay finished with 15 points in the contest, leading both sides with seven assists. Fellow rookie Hunter Vick also finished in double figures, tallying 10 points, five rebounds, four assists and three blocks.
Playing in his final game in the Eblen Center of his four-year career, senior Courtney Alexander II wrapped up the night with five points, five rebounds, a block and a steal. Alexander, along with graduate transfer Malik Martin and senior manager Ezra Pinzur, were honored prior to the game in a special Senior Day ceremony by head coach Steve Payne, director of athletics Mark Wilson, University president Phil Oldham and his wife, Kari.
Just two games remain on the regular season schedule for the Golden Eagles, who will wrap up Ohio Valley Conference play with trips to SIUE and Eastern Illinois. Tech will visit the Cougars in Edwardsville, Ill. on Thursday, Feb. 28 in a 7:30 p.m. CT tilt. The purple and gold then conclude the regular season with a 3:15 p.m. match-up with the Panthers on Saturday, March 2 in Charleston, Ill.
Photo by Tony Marable