By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
GREENSBORO, N.C. – It was a tough night on offense for the Tennessee Tech men's basketball team Friday evening, as the Golden Eagles fell to a veteran-laden UNCG quad in the team's first of three contests in the Spartan Invitational.
The hometown Spartans (3-1) defeated the purple and gold, 64-30, using a stifling press and trap defense to forced 26 turnovers and hold the Golden Eagles (1-3) to 22.4 percent shooting from the field and 13.6 percent shooting from 3-point range.
"I thought coming into this basketball game, that this was certainly the best team that we were going to have played so far," Tech head coach John Pelphrey said. "They're just very athletic, they have a very unique style of play, they do a great job with their full court pressure and tonight we had a problem with that."
UNCG, which returned three starters and number of key role players from a 2018-19 squad that set a program record with 29 wins and earned the No. 1 seed in the National Invitation Tournament (NIT), scored 34 points off turnovers and racked up 14 steals and six blocks in the contest.
"We lost our spacing a couple of times and I'm not sure we were ever able to attack it in a very aggressive manner like I thought we would," Pelphrey explained. "That was a little disappointing, but you have to give them credit. They are a very, very good defensive team. They were disruptive, they were physical, they forced us into a lot of turnovers, they blocked a lot of our shots. They just had us, mentally, in a very tough spot. When you turn it over like that, you aren't thinking correctly. When you get your shots blocked, you're typically taking poor shots."
The young Golden Eagle squad saw 12 players complete at least nine minutes in the contest, gaining some experience that will be sure to prove valuable later in the lengthy season.
"I think that when that started, even right from the start of the game, mentally we could not recover. We have to grow," Pelphrey expressed. "We've talked about this. We're going to have to go the School of Hard Knocks a few times with the main thing being, we have to learn from these situations so that the next time we're in them, we can compete at a higher level.
"It certainly falls on me as the head coach. I have to do a better job and we will work and improve on those areas. It's just going to be a long process for us. Our schedule to this point has been very challenging. Two out of these three [Division I] teams we've played on the road. They have been experienced teams with success the last couple of years and are poised to do really good things in their situations this year. At the end of the day, we just have to get better."
On the night, the Tech defense had some strong stretches of play and ultimately held a team averaging nearly 85 points per game to just 64 in the contest. The Golden Eagles also kept the Spartans below their season averages in field goal percentage, 3-point field goal percentage and free throw percentage. Tech kept the battle on the glass close as well, snagging 39 to the Spartan's 41.
"When were able to get back and get our defense set, there were some good moments," Pelphrey said about the defensive effort. "They only scored 64 points in the game here at home and we had 26 turnovers, so that can be looked at one of two ways. They may not have played their best on offense and we were doing some decent things defensively, but it certainly wasn't enough to keep us in the game."
With two more games over the next two days, including a 2:30 p.m. CT tilt against Appalachian State Saturday afternoon, the Golden Eagles have little time to dwell on the results of the night's contest.
"We don't have two or three days to analyze this, think about this, to get over this," Pelphrey explained. "We have two or three hours and then it's time to move on to the next game. Our next opponent will bring a whole different set of circumstances and challenges and we'll need to be ready for those. Nobody is going to feel sorry for us. We have to show up and play. When you put that jersey on, that special piece of cloth, you need to get out there and compete at level we want to play at."
Tech and App State will square off in Fleming Gymnasium in the first game of the day with UNCG and Montana State facing off later in the evening. The Golden Eagles will wrap up the tournament on Sunday morning with an 11:00 a.m. match-up with Montana State.
Photo by Jonathan Caudle