COOKEVILLE, Tenn. -- For three members of the Tennessee Tech
roster – Ra’Shun Bryant, Zac Walker and Daniel Northern
– Thursday night’s game against Tennessee State has
special meaning. It’s the final game in Eblen Center in their
careers as Golden Eagles.
At the same, this game carries even more significance for the entire Golden Eagle squad, which is fighting for a spot in the eight-team Ohio Valley Conference tournament.
Three teams are in the hunt for the final two spots in the tournament. In addition to Tech, those teams are Thursday night’s opponent, the Tennessee State Tigers, and next week’s opponent, the Jacksonville State Gamecocks.
A lot has happened since Tech gained an eight-point win over the Tigers last month in Nashville. Tennessee State is under new direction, after head coach Cy Alexander was replaced by assistant coach Mark Pittman. Last Saturday night, the Tigers stunned contender Austin Peay in Clarksville, 88-80.
With that win, the Tigers improved to 6-9 in league play, and hold a little advantage over Tech and JSU. In addition to their game at Tech, Tennessee State will hosts winless Southeast Missouri next Thursday, then host Eastern Illinois on Saturday, Feb. 28, in the regular season finish.
Tech and TSU have met 47 times through the years, with the Golden Eagles owning a narrow 25-22 edge in the series.
In the first meeting this season, sophomore Alex Davis scored a career-high 21 points and 10 different players were in on the scoring as Tech shot its way to an 86-78 victory in the Gentry Center.
The Golden Eagles shot 55.9 percent for the game, including 11-for-20 for 55 percent from long range. In addition to Davis, Tech also got double-digit points from Daniel Northern with 16 and Frank Davis with 11.
Gerald Robinson paced TSU with 21 points and eight assists, while Parker Smith hit 6-for-9 from 3-point range on his way to 19 points. Jerrell Houston had 14 points and eight rebounds.
Tech rebounded from a tough loss at Austin Peay two nights earlier to control the game nearly wire-to-wire. The host Tigers held a two-point lead at 4-2, and again at 8-6, but that was all. The game was tied five times in the first half, the last coming at 20-20 at the 7:37 mark.
The Golden Eagles shot 62 percent in the second half and pushed their lead into double figures four times, with the largest margin midway through the half being 12 points. Tech led by 10 points, 64-54, with 7:13 to play when the Tigers made things interesting with a 6-0 run. A layup by Robinson with 6:16 to go pulled TSU to within four, 64-60, but Alex Davis hit another 3-pointer for some breathing room.
Down by nine, 71-66 the Tigers scored another 6-0 run to make it a three-point game, 71-68, with 2:46 remaining on a 3-pointer by Smith. With 2:08 remaining, Will Barnes fired up a 3-pointer before the shot clock expired and it rattled around and went through for a 74-68 lead.
That was the basket that allowed Tech to shake away and the Golden Eagles rebuilt a double-digit lead. The largest margin of the game came in the final half minute when Tech went up by 14 points before settling for the final eight-point win.
Walker didn't score a point, but he played a key role in the win. Making only the second start of his career, Walker had two rebounds, two assists and a steal, and played solid in-your-face defense. While he was on the floor for a career-high 16 minutes, he held Smith, TSU's long distance shooter, scoreless.
Northern leads Tech in scoring (12.0 ppg), rebounds (8.6 rpg) and blocked shots (69). He’s shooting 49.8 percent from the field, and is hitting 54 percent against OVC defenses.
Barnes (10.3) and Frank Davis (10.2) are also scoring in double figures for coach Mike Sutton’s squad. Kevin Murphy, who was named the OVC Freshman of the Week on Monday, is next on the team with 8.7 points per game, and is scoring 9.8 points against the league.
Robinson is the Tigers’ leading scorer, averaging 17.3 points per game. Jerrell Houston, a transfer from Mississippi State a couple years back, is next on the team with 13.3 points per game, and paces TSU with 7.0 rebounds per game. He’s getting 8.4 rebounds per OVC tilt.
TSU is also getting solid production from Darius Cox with 9.9 points and 6.9 rebounds per game, and Smith with 9.8 points per contest. Smith is shooting 49 percent from outside the arc in OVC play and averaging 11.8 points against the league.