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Tech storms back, but Tennessee State escapes with 77-74 OVC win

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee State appeared to be in cruise control for much of the game Thursday night at Tennessee Tech, owning leads as large as 15 points. However, the Tigers needed some timely free throw shooting in the final two minutes to break a late tie and escape Eblen Center with a 77-74 Ohio Valley Conference victory as the Golden Eagles missed their tying try at the buzzer.

The Golden Eagles stormed back with a 15-0 run, including eight points by freshman Kevin Murphy, over the final six minutes, to jolt the crowd and make it a two-minute contest.

Tennessee State regained the lead on a layup by Jarrell Houston and then made 8-for-14 at the free throw line to cling to the victory. A 3-pointer by Frank Davis with 8.5 seconds to go cut it to a 76-74 TSU lead.

After Wil Peters made one free throw for a 77-74 lead, Tech rebounded the second and got one final chance but Zach Bailey’s 3-point try from the right corner was off the mark.

With the victory, the Tigers (9-17/7-9 OVC) clinched a spot in the OVC Tournament and no worse than the No.7 seed.

The Golden Eagles, meanwhile, have put all of their eggs in one basket, so to speak. After their non-conference game Saturday at Ball State, Tech (11-16/5-12 OVC) will wrap up the regular season next Saturday with a game at Jacksonville State.

Tech and JSU (11-16/5-12 OVC) will go head-to-head for the No. 8 seed and final spot in the tournament. The winner gets to play another day, while the loser’s season will be finished.

After the first 20 minutes of battling, Tennessee State held a five-point lead at halftime, 36-31. The Tigers took the lead early after back-and-forth scoring through the first five minutes. Jarrell Houston converted a three-point play with 15:05 to go to lift TSU ahead by a 9-8 score, keying a 10-0 run that ended with the visitors on top, 17-8. Houston scored seven of the points in the run.

That nine-point lead grew to as much as 15 points, when Gershom Jorgan made a jumper with 8:55 remaining for a 30-15 TSU lead.

Frank Davis hit a 3-pointer and Tech scored the next seven points to pull the margin back down into single digits, 30-22, with 5:51 to play. TSU went back up by nine on a layup by Wil Peters, before Tech closed with a 5-1 run into halftime.

Tennessee State seemed to control the game through most of the second half, taking its lead from four (40-36) back into double digits. The Tigers marched to their largest lead of the night at 15 points, 67-52, with 6:32 remaining when Darius Cox put together a three-point play.

But the Golden Eagles caught fire, piecing together their 15-0 run to tie the game at 67-67 for the final two minutes of action.

Gerald Robinson was the top scorer for TSU with 19 points, in addition to four assists and three steals. Houston finished with 17 points and six rebounds while Darius Cox recorded a double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds. Lonnie Funderburke contributed six points and eight rebounds, helping TSU to a 42-35 edge on the glass.

Murphy topped Tech with 19 points,, while Frank Davis finished with 17 points and three steals. Daniel Northern also scored in double figures with 12, and led Tech with five rebounds.

The Golden Eagles take a break from conference play Saturday with a visit to Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., for a 1 p.m. CST ESPN Bracket Buster game against the Cardinals.