Saturday, Feb. 27, Tennessee Tech’s men’s and women’s basketball teams split with Eastern Kentucky. It was an emotional night for both Golden Eagle teams as Tech hosted its senior night. The Golden Eagles said goodbye to seniors Tia Nicholson, Samaria Howard, Mariah Dean, Torrance Rowe, Ryan Martin and Anthony Morse.
Being a senior, Howard was in disbelief after the women lost to a resilient Eastern Kentucky team 71-67 in overtime.
“I can’t believe it’s over,” said Howard.
Eastern Kentucky jumped out to an early lead over Tech outscoring them 20-12 in the first quarter. By the end of the first half, the Colonels held a 10 point advantage over the Golden Eagles.
After the game, Women’s basketball coach Jim Davis said, “We came out very slow in the first half, that had as much to do with it [the loss] than anything. I’m disappointed; I’m hurt more for our seniors than anybody. They are a wonderful group of young ladies.”
A couple of Davis’s points of emphasis all season have been physicality and rebounding. Dean had another dominant rebounding performance in this game pulling 16 boards. However as a team, Tech was outrebounded by EKU 48-42 for the game’s entirety.
“I just hate it for our seniors. The next group of players, the underclassman, have got to step up and make things happen for the future,” said Davis.
The men’s contest was a 3-point shootout from the first whistle; however, shots did not start falling consistently until the second half. The Golden Eagles shot a mere 25 percent from beyond the arc in the first half, but with the help of Aleksa Jugovic, junior, and Rowe, Tech increased that percentage to 55.6 percent from 3-point range in the second half helping their team secure the victory over Eastern Kentucky, 92-82.
Jugovic alone made 7-12 3-point shots while putting up 30 points for the Golden Eagles.
Men’s basketball coach Steve Payne commented on Jugovic’s performance.
“Well that’s his job. We got on him at halftime for not shooting a couple. I didn’t even realize he had 30,” said Payne. “What he does is stretch the defense out and he’s just a really good player. I’m really proud of how hard he worked and the success he had. Our guys found him, and he did a great job.”
Jugovic also spoke to the adjustments made by Tech to improve that shooting percentage in the second half.
“Great execution on offense and moving the ball for not a good shot, but a great shot. If my teammate is open I will pass the ball and he will knock it down. We all have trust in each other to knock down the three’s and that’s exactly what happened in this game,” said Jugovic.
The trust and ball movement were apparent to begin the second half. Rowe also had a huge game for the Golden Eagles from beyond the arc making 5-12 shots while scoring 23 points in his final game at the Hooper Eblen Center. Rowe began the second half making four baskets, three of which were 3-pointers. Rowe also went a perfect 6-6 from the free throw line.
This win gave the men 14 home victories this season. This mark ties this Tech squad with the 2000-01 squad for the second-most home victories in program history for a single season. It also gives the Golden Eagles a positive momentum heading into the OVC tournament.
Payne said, “I hope everybody can come to Nashville [for the OVC tournament] because this is a team that can win the tournament. We’ll have to play well; it’s a tough, tough game, a tough league, but I’m really looking forward to taking this bunch over there and playing.”
Payne believes mental preparation is equally important as physical preparation when it comes to the OVC tournament.
“You got to have a next game, next play mentality in the tournament. We’re going to prepare like we do every other game. If you win, it’s got to be on to the next game. You can’t spend a lot of time worrying about the game before. You just have to focus on the task at hand, stay in the moment, worry about doing the next thing right and the next thing right. That’s what we’ve done all year, we just want to do the next thing right,” said Payne.
Hakeem Rogers, junior, typically starts for the Golden Eagles, however he did play Saturday night. According to Payne, Rogers pulled a hamstring and could not practice for a couple of days leading up to the game. The coaching staff made the decision to sit Rogers against Eastern Kentucky in hopes he will be at full health come time for OVC tournament play.
The men’s OVC tournament starts Wednesday, March 2 at the Nashville Municipal Auditorium.