By Nate Perry, TTU Sports Information
EVANSVILLE, Ind. – The scoring depth on the Tennessee Tech women's basketball team has been one of its major strengths all season, and it came to the forefront again Thursday afternoon in TTU's 68-57 victory over Austin Peay in the opening round of the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament at The Ford Center in Evansville, Ind.
The victory moves Tech's record to 21-9 on the season, and is the program's first in the OVC Tournament since March 8, 2013.
"I thought the difference in the game was our defense and our bench play," said head coach Kim Rosamond. "I just can't say enough about our bench – especially Kesha (Brady) and Mackenzie (Coleman). I thought they played tremendous."
"Austin Peay is a very difficult matchup (defensively). Their motion offense is extremely hard to guard, and they make you work for 40 minutes, but I thought our kids did just that. I thought we did a solid job of taking away the things we needed to take away from their offense."
Coleman and Brady were Tech's top two scorers in the game with 18 points and 16 points, respectively, and combined for 34 of Tech's 40 bench points.
Coleman's scoring output was her second-highest of the season, and came on 8-of-14 shooting (57.1 percent) in 28 minutes of action. Her marksmanship paced a Golden Eagle team that shot 49.1 percent from the field for the game, their fifth-best clip over 30 contests.
The Golden Eagles were feeling it from 3-point range as well, connecting on 7-of-13 from downtown for a percentage of .538. Paired with their long-range display last Saturday against Eastern Illinois, Tech has made 18 of its last 32 triple tries (56.3 percent).
Brady provided an instant spark upon subbing in in the first quarter. The sophomore scored five of Tech's first eight points in the game, and finished with eight in the frame to give TTU a four-point lead after one, 15-11. The sophomore from Smyrna was highly effective driving to the basket, as she drew a team-high eight fouls on Austin Peay and visited the free throw line nine times.
"We have starters coming off the bench; I can only start five," said Rosamond. "(Coleman and Brady) could absolutely be in our starting lineup, but they are so unselfish that they are willing to do what is best for our team. When you can bring two kids of this caliber off the bench, that's really tough to defend."
Coleman and Jordan Brock carried the offensive load in the second, tallying eight points apiece.
Brock hit a pair of threes in the period on her way to a team-best 3-of-4 showing from behind the long line. She would finish as Tech's third leading scorer, collecting 13 points to go with three rebounds, two assists, one block and one steal.
Tech won the game with its rebounding and defensive efforts in the second half.
After finishing minus-three on the glass in the first half, the Golden Eagles flipped the script on the APSU after halftime, outrebounding the Govs 22-11 to finish plus-eight (39-31).
Coleman was highly involved in that facet of the game as well, gathering a team-high eight boards. Kentoria Alexander, arguably one of the best pound-for-pound rebounders in the country, also made a notable contribution with seven caroms.
"Didn't like the way we rebounded in the first half," Rosamond said. "We gave up 10 offensive boards, and that was also an area where they really hurt us at our place. We knew we had to fix the rebounding problem. I thought we did that in the third quarter. I thought our kids settled down and played extremely hard."
Alexander, who has played a Swiss-Army-knife style for the Golden Eagles all season, did so again on Thursday with seven points and a team-high seven assists to go with her rebounds.
The Tech defense shined brightest in the third quarter, holding Austin Peay to 11 points on 20 percent shooting (3-of-15). The Govs were limited to a 32.6-percent clip for the game, and made just 6-of-22 from behind the arc (27.3 percent), which included a 1-of-8 mark in the second half.
Perhaps the most impressive element of Tech's defensive display was its ability to defend without fouling. Tech forced APSU into a plethora of tough, contested looks at the basket, and was only whistled for 10 fouls in the game, a season-low.
"We had to keep them off the free-throw line," Rosamond said. "They're a team that scores 18 points per game from the free-throw line, and we only sent them there 12 times tonight, which is a big turnaround from when we played them at our place."
A Maggie Knowles jump shot would get Austin Peay within four points with just over six minutes to go in the game, but Tech's Abby Buckner had the immediate answer, burying a trifecta just five seconds later that swung the tide back in Tech's favor permanently. The Governors would get no closer than seven for the remainder of the contest.
"At the end of the day, at this time of the year, execution wins ballgames. We had to execute our game plan on both ends of the floor, and I thought for the most part we did that tonight."
Tech will take on two-time defending OVC Tournament champion Belmont tomorrow at 1 p.m. CT.
The Bruins, who hold the tournament's top seed for the third straight season, took down Southeast Missouri, 74-65, in their first-round game on Wednesday afternoon.
BU's First Team All-OVC duo of Darby Maggard and Ellie Harmeyer combined for 45 points in the game, while second-teamer Jenny Roy put forth a Kentoria Alexander-like outing with six points, nine rebounds and eight assists.
Tech split its two matchups with Belmont this season, notably ending the Bruins' 47-game winning streak over OVC opponents back on Jan. 5. Jordan Brock and Abby Buckner each scored a team-high 18 points that night, keyed by a combined 9-of-12 from 3-point range.
"Obviously, Belmont is a great team," Rosamond said. "While we played extremely well to beat them at their place in January, they came in with a vengeance and gave us an old-fashioned butt-whippin' at our place. We know that we will have our hands full with them, but we also know that this tournament runs through them. We're excited to get another opportunity to play them. It's a huge challenge, but also a great opportunity."
Photo by Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information