There is only one word that could describe Tennessee Tech’s win over Tennessee State Thursday night… epic. A rowdy crowd at the Eblen Center cheered on the Golden Eagle men’s basketball team to an 81-79 win in their Ohio Valley Conference showdown with the visiting Tigers. The game was nationally televised on the American Sports Network and was for possession of second place in the OVC East Division.
TSU controlled the majority of the first half. Tech had an early 4-2 lead, but a 14-4 run by the Tigers gave them a 16-8 lead. The Golden Eagles diminished the deficit to three points at 36-33 with 2:35 remaining in the half. TSU scored seven unanswered to end the half and extend their lead back to double digits. The Tigers had an answer for everything Tech was throwing at them during the first half, but the Golden Eagles did not panic.
“ The one thing we kept harping was that we had to get even on the boards,” said head coach Steve Payne. “ One of our deals is just do what we do and then do what you do best in what we do for our team and we did not do that in the first 20 minutes.”
“ We came out of halftime and I knew we were going to play better,” said Payne. “ Those guys, they want to do well.”
One of Tech’s big men, Ryan Martin, connected on a three-pointer 33 seconds into the second half. The score cut Tennessee State’s lead to seven at 43-36. The Tigers never regained their double-digit advantage.
The Golden Eagles went ahead with 3:32 remaining. Aleksa Jugovic gave Tech a 70-68 lead after hitting a three-pointer. Tennessee State responded by regaining the lead in the next possession on a Keron Deshields three-pointer. Martin put Tech back in front after completing two free throws.
The Tigers were down by one with 2:37 remaining and they were looking to regain momentum, but a steal by Hakeem Rogers led to a fast break layup for the junior guard. The Golden Eagles found themselves in prime position to win after being down by as much as 13 during the game.
“ We just kept playing,” said Rogers about the team’s comeback. “ We kept being patient. We kept finding open shots and making shots as well.”
The Golden Eagles were up by three and had the Tigers on their heels. Five TSU fouls in the last 2:09 of the game resulted in seven points for Tech at the free throw line. The crowd inside the Eblen Center endured another scare from the Tigers. Rogers fouled TSU’s Deshields as he was shooting a three. Deshields made all three free throws and tied the game 79-79 with five seconds remaining.
It appeared that it was going to take overtime to settle things between the two OVC rivals, but Torrance Rowe had other plans. Rowe charged down the court with five seconds remaining and pulled up for a three-pointer with only a second left. As he elevated, Tennessee State’s Tahjere McCall fouled him. Officials reviewed the play to determine how much time should be left on the clock. After the review, 0.5 seconds was placed back onto the clock and Rowe was at the free throw line- needing only one point to seal the victory.
“ None,” emphatically replied Rowe when he was asked if he felt any pressure when he went to the line. “ I work on free throws all the time. I came in late last night by myself shooting free throws. I knew that was going to be game. I knew I was going to hit them at least one of them.”
Rowe sealed the 81-79 victory for the Golden Eagles hitting two of the free throws. The senior finished the night with 19 points. Tech was led in scoring by Rogers who had 23 points. Tennessee State’s DeShields had the game high in points with 37. Tech’s Martin had the game high in rebounds with 14.
Payne expected that the game was going to be competitive.
“ They are a good team. You are not going to come out and blow them out,” said Payne. “ You have to battle for forty minutes. We did and we just gave ourselves a chance to win the game and the guys made one play enough.”
The Golden Eagles will have a chance Saturday to win their twelfth game at home this season when they host the top team in the OVC, the Belmont Bruins. The men’s basketball team will play the second game of the double header with the Bruins. The women’s basketball team will begin their game at 5:30.