Free throw woes cost Tech in 71-65 loss at Tennessee State

Free throw woes cost Tech in 71-65 loss at Tennessee State

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The situation at the top of the Ohio Valley Conference men's basketball standings are just as confusing today at the mid-point of the league schedule as they were in November before anybody began OVC play.

One thing that is certain, however, is that the Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles are planted firmly in the mix of teams with designs on the championship.

Despite suffering a 71-65 loss at Tennessee State Saturday night, Tennessee Tech has shown it can battle on the road against the league's top teams. Tech faced the league's co-leaders in consecutive road games and came away with a split – and nearly made it a clean sweep.

Tech's overall record is now 9-9, with a 5-4 mark inside the OVC. The Golden Eagles are tied for fourth place with Morehead State and Eastern Kentucky, while Tennessee State and Austin Peay are atop the standings at 7-2. Murray State is in between with a 6-3 mark for third place.

A busload of Golden Eagles fans helped raise the volume level in the Gentry Center, but couldn't quite provide enough energy to lift their team to the victory. Tennessee State used a second-half 15-0 run to climb on top of a back-and-forth contest, then hit enough free throws down the stretch to ice the win.

Missed free throws were Tech's undoing, as the Golden Eagles struggled at the charity stripe. Tech was 10-for-22 for just 45 percent. 

"We're really disappointed with the loss," said coach Mike Sutton. "We didn't make enough plays to win the game and Tennessee State did. We had opportunities to win but we didn't execute. We didn't make enough free throws and we didn't box out."

Sutton admitted that the struggles at the free throw line were a key

"Tonight free throws came back to haunt us. At Austin Peay, we were 11-for-21 but we dodged a bullet. We had a chance to help ourselves in the standings tonight and just didn't get it done.

The game featured 13 lead changes and four ties.

Kevin Murphy led Tech, notching a double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds, while Zac Swansey added 14 and Zach Bailey scored 11. A team that has shot better than 50 percent eight times this season, the Golden Eagles connected on just 36 percent Saturday night.

Tennessee State was led by Patrick Miller with 21 points and Kenny Moore with a double-double of 16 points and 10 rebounds. Wil Peters added 12 for the Tiger

Down 42-37, the Golden Eagles used an 12-0 run capped by Chase Dunn's 3-pointer and layups by Matt Marseille and Kevin Murphy to stake a 49-42 lead midway through the second half.

The Tigers responded in a wild stretch with a15-0 run of their own, and reclaimed the lead at 57-49.  A three-point play by Dennis Ogbe stopped the run and made it 57-52 and Tech kept things close for the next five minutes.

A layup by Swansey made it 64-60, and a minute later the junior guard went to the free throw line with a chance to trim it to two points. He made one, and the game became a one-possession contest at 64-61 with 1:37 remaining.

But the Golden Eagles couldn't find an answer and the Tigers used free throws down the stretch to secure the win.

Tech rolled out to a quick 6-0 lead on a pair of 3-pointers by Murphy as Tech took advantage of cold TSU shooting from the opening tipoff. The Tigers came back to tie things up and forge ahead by three, before Tech regained control and a four-point lead.

At halftime, the score was tied at 29-29.

Tech continues its four-game road swing with a game at Eastern Illinois Thursday. The road stretch finishes on Saturday at Southeast Missouri, before Tech comes home for three consecutive contests.

The next home game is Thursday, Feb. 3, against Eastern Kentucky. That's followed by Morehead State (Saturday, Feb. 5), and Austin Peay (Monday, Feb. 7).

Coach Mike Sutton talks about Tech basketball each Monday at the Sidelines Luncheon, beginning at 11:30 a.m. in the Eagles' Nest. Call (931) 372-3940 for information.