Men’s basketball in high gear

It was a tale of two games for the Tennessee Tech men’s basketball team as the Golden Eagles split their first two games of the season. During Friday night’s contest against Piedmont International, Tech’s relentless defense and well-rounded offense fueled a historic win against the Bruins. The 83-29 victory was the lowest point total men’s basketball has allowed in the Hooper Eblen Center since the 1947-1948 season.

Monday night’s game was a significant step up in competition for the Golden Eagles. They traveled to Los Angeles for a showdown with the University of Southern California Trojans in pursuit of its third win against a PAC-12 opponent.

In their season and home opener, the Golden Eagles dominated and did not relinquish the lead the entire night. The defense forced turnover after turnover, and by the end of the night, Piedmont had racked up 21. Head coach Steve Payne was impressed by the defensive clinic.

“I was pleased with our energy level and how we played defensively,” said Payne. “We got to see some stuff. Our big guys guarding smaller guards we needed to see that, and I think they done a good job with that.”

The Golden Eagles grabbed 36 defensive rebounds, with junior Charles Jackson leading the team who ended the night with nine. On the offensive side of the ball, freshman Mason Ramsey battled his way to nine offensive rebounds and 14 points. Ramsey’s five defensive rebounds gave him a double double. The stellar performance earned him OVC Freshman of the Week, the first ever-collegiate award for the Livingston, Tenn. native.

“Mason is a good young player,” said Payne. “He has got to continue to get better. One of the things in that game (Piedmont) he was one of the better athletes on the floor. He has got to learn to play with guys who are bigger and more athletic than him, but we are excited about Mason.”

The Golden Eagles faced a different beast at USC. The Trojans had two post players to start that were 6’11. However Tech outscored USC in the paint 36-28 and out-rebounded 42-33. The Golden Eagles’ ineffectiveness from mid-range and beyond the arch proved to be their demise. The team went 1-18 from beyond the arch and made only 33.8 percent of their field goals.

“We shot it terribly at USC,” said Payne. “I do not think we will shoot it that bad again. We shot it horribly, but we still had chances to win the game. Our shooting did not cost us the game; it could have helped us win it, but our trademark has got to be defense and ball security. Our ball security was not very good.”

Fouls were also an issue. Tech had five players to finish with three fouls or more. This resulted in several trips to the free throw line for the Trojans, and they took the advantage, hitting over 70 percent of their free throws.

Points from the bench were scarce, unlike the Piedmont contest when the Golden Eagles received 37 points from the bench. In Los Angeles, the reserves only scored 12.

A late run by the Trojans put the Golden Eagles away 70-58. With the loss, Tech fell to 1-1 while USC improved to 1-1. Tech was led in scoring by senior post player Dwan Caldwell. Charles Jackson earned his second double double of the season with 12 points and 10 rebounds.      Coach Payne responded emphatically when asked if he was impressed with his team’s performance at USC. Freshman Aleksa Jugovic led Tech’s bench with six points.           

“Honestly no. I was really expecting to get a win,” said Payne. “I told them before the game that we would have a chance to win this game.”

Tech will be at home Saturday against the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Mocs. The Mocs come into this season confident after being selected to finish second in the Southern Conference. They will come to Cookeville with a 1-2 record that includes losses at Wisconsin and Butler. Their match up with the Golden Eagles will begin at 7 p.m. Saturday.                                                                                                  ‚Äč