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Lights Out: Golden Eagle firepower tops Tennessee State in shootout

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – Junior Jud Dillard and seniors Zac Swansey and Kevin Murphy all topped the 20-point mark Thursday night to lead Tennessee Tech to a 92-86 victory over Tennessee State in an Ohio Valley Conference shootout in Eblen Center.

Tech (10-6/2-1 OVC) used the three-star performance to claim a victory in its first home conference game of the year, following a six-game road trip. It was Tech’s first home contest in nearly a month.

Tennessee State (8-8/1-2 OVC) had five players in double figures and kept things close until the final minute.

Dillard went 11-for-13 from the field and hit all seven of his free throws to score a career-high 29 points and also led Tech with six rebounds. Murphy also notched 29 points, while Swansey added 20 on the strength of his 6-for-7 effort from outside the 3-point arc. The OVC leader in both assists and steals, Swansey added four assists and three steals.

Swansey dropped in four consecutive 3-pointers midway in the second half, including three bombs in a 66-second span, that might have proved to be the deciding factor. His streak erased a TSU lead and gave Tech a six-point cushion that the Golden Eagles were able to hold onto over the final eight minutes.  

It was the first time in four years that Tech has had three players top the 20-point mark in the same game. The last time came on Jan. 31, 2008, when Anthony Fisher (21), Amadi McKenzie (21) and Frank Davis (20) did it at UT Martin.

Robert Covington topped Tennessee State with 14 points and nine rebounds, and Patrick Miller also socred 14. Jordan Cyphers scored 13, Wil Peters had 11 and Kenny Moore netted 10.

Tech shot 58.5 percent from the field (31-for-53) including 9-for-14 (64.3 percent) from long distance. The Golden Eagles were 21-for-25 at the free throw line and posted the team’s second-highest scoring output of the year. It was the most points scored by any league team in an OVC game this season.

Tennessee State was also in-range, shooting a solid 51.8 percent (29-for-56) from the field and 10-for-19 (52.6 percent) from 3-point land.  The Tigers went 18-for-22 at the free throw line.

TSU had a 26-25 edge in rebounds, which weren’t plentiful in a game where there were more makes than misses.  

A hot-shooting Golden Eagle squad owned the lead for 19 of the 20 minutes in the first half, forcing Tennessee State to play catch-up the entire period after Tech had jumped out to a 10-0 lead to open the contest.

A 3-pointer by Swansey capped the 10-0 run to start the game. After the Tech defense held TSU scoreless for the first three minutes, Covington’s 3-pointer snapped the run.

The Tigers pecked away at the Golden Eagle lead, eventually battling all the way back to tie the game at 25-25 with 8:13 to play in the period on another 3-pointer by Covington.

Tech was able to reclaim the advantage behind the two-pronged scoring of Dillard and Murphy, and went back up by seven points. The Golden Eagles led by seven points four times in the final seven minutes, including a 43-36 margin at halftime.

The Tigers used a 12-2 run to open the second half, capped by three points by Chris Conner, to claim their first lead of the contest at 48-47 with 15:30 to play. Three-pointers by Covington and Jay Harris helped TSU surge out front by six, 59-53, for its largest lead of the game.

A jumper by Peters with 9:12 left put TSU on top, 62-61, but it proved to be the last lead of the game for the Tigers.

That’s when Swansey knocked down three straight 3-pointers and Tech was up, 70-64.  The Tigers crept back to within one, 77-76, on a trey by Cyphers but Tech responded with seven consecutive free throws. Tech went 13-for-14 at the charity stripe over the final 2:30.

The Golden Eagles will be back in action in Eblen Center on Saturday night when they welcome defending OVC Tournament champ Morehead State for a 7:30 p.m. match. It’s the second game of a doubleheader, following a 5:30 p.m. women’s game between the two schools.

Morehead State overcame a 13-point second half deficit Thursday to claim a 63-55 win at Jacksonville State.