By Nate Perry, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – A smothering defensive effort in the fourth quarter allowed the Tennessee Tech women's basketball team to pull away from Tennessee Wesleyan, and light up the scoreboard, as the Golden Eagles moved to 5-0 in the Hooper Eblen Center with a 100-58 victory Saturday night.
While TTU maintained a double-digit lead for the majority of the first three quarters, it was its full-court man defense in the fourth stanza that blew the game open. The pressure produced nine Tech steals and forced the Bulldogs into 11 second-half turnovers, which were converted into 18 points.
"I thought the difference was on the defensive end," said head coach Kim Rosamond. "We really ramped up our energy and effort, and I think pressing them for three quarters really started to wear on them. They started to get tired, and our depth showed up as a big positive for us."
As a result, the pace of the game increased rapidly, and Tech exploded for 35 points in the final period – with scoring coming from nearly the entire roster – to hit the 100-point mark for the first time since 2001.
It was also the Golden Eagles' first 40-point victory in the Rosamond era, and the program's first since a 94-41 victory over Wesleyan on Nov. 9, 2013.
In addition to securing a landmark eighth win in its non-conference finale, Tech continues its unbeaten streak at home to start the season, improving to 5-0.
"I'm really pleased we're able to go into conference play with the momentum from a three-game winning streak," Rosamond said. "Without a doubt, I think our nonconference schedule has prepared us for (Ohio Valley Conference) play, and we're looking forward to seeing how much more we can improve. I think we're just scratching the surface with where this team can go."
Tech gained control of the game early, using scoring runs of 10-3 and 12-2 to jump out to a 27-9 lead with nine minutes left in the first quarter.
Jordan Brock had much to do with the early assault, as the sophomore potted 10 of her 18 points in the first quarter. The Harlan, Ky. native also finished with three assists, two rebounds, and three of TTU's 13 steals in the game.
Kentoria Alexander was a large part of the offense in the first half as well, accounting for eight of her 10 points in the contest. The second-year transfer from Walters State Community College put together another terrific all-around performance, leading the team with a career-high nine assists and six rebounds, along with two steals.
Tech finished with 22 assists in the game against only 10 turnovers.
After a relatively quiet first half, Akia Harris got going on the back nine, scoring 14 of her game-high 19 points. The junior point guard seemed to be around the ball constantly in the second 20 minutes, playing the role of catalyst for Tech's offensive explosion.
"We started playing to our offensive strengths in the third quarter, and I thought she keyed us," said Rosamond of Harris' exploits. "She kept so many balls alive, started attacking the rim and getting to the free-throw line, creating for others, and really locked down on the defensive end."
The rest of Harris's line contained five rebounds, four assists, two steals and a blocked shot.
"My coaches and teammates believe in me to make decisions and play to my strengths," Harris said. "My coaches told me at halftime to get back to my strengths – attacking the rim and drawing fouls – and I was able to do that tonight."
All 13 Golden Eagles in uniform logged at least four minutes of game action. Eleven of them found their way onto the score board, nine contributed at least six points, and four of them finished in double-figures.
Tech shot over 45 percent from the floor for the second straight game, detailed by season-bests in made three pointers (14) and three-point field goal percentage (48.3%). Five players – Alexander, Brock, Megan Clark, Kesha Brady and Hannah Garrett all made at least two triples.
The other columns on the box score were evenly distributed as well, as eight players had at least three rebounds, five had multiple assists, seven players recorded steals, and six blocked at least one shot.
"I think this team has a lot strengths, but I think the biggest one is our depth," said Rosamond. "We have a lot of kids that can score in double figures on any given night, but it's not all about scoring. We have players who can defend, players who can get to the rim, players who can spread the ball around. We have great depth, and that's one of the things that excites me most about this basketball team."
Brady was the fourth double-digit scorer for TTU with 12 points. She also hauled down four rebounds, pilfered a game-high three steals, and dished out two assists.
Clark turned in a perfect shooting night (3-3 FGs, 2-2 3FGs, 1-1 FTs) for nine points, Mackenzie Coleman, Garrett, Taylor Lamb and Anacia Wilkinson each had six, Peace Okeke had five – all from the free throw line – and Lacy Cantrell had three points and a team-high three blocks.
Okeke's five points, four rebounds and one steal all came in just four minutes of playing time.
Coleman co-led the team with six rebounds while Wilkinson pulled down three rebounds and blocked two shots.
Tech posted another superb free-throw shooting performance (22-25; 80 percent), outscored TWU 28-16 in the paint, dominated the points-off-turnovers and fast-break points categories (26-5; 20-2), and tallied 50 bench points.
Now it's on to the conference season for Tech, which will start with visits to the OVC's Nashville residents, Tennessee State and perennial power Belmont.
The first matchup will come against TSU on Thursday, Jan. 3., a 5:30 p.m. tip from the Tigers' Gentry Center.
"TSU is a good team," said Rosamond. "Their record is not where they want it, but you can't judge them by that. I would compare them to Wichita State with the kind of pressure they put on their opponents and the number of different defenses they throw at you. They also have two veteran players who can flat-out score the basketball in Tia Wooten and Taylor Roberts. We will have a great challenge on our hands on Thursday night."
Photo by Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information