By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information Coordinator
CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas - Suffocating defense and an offensive spark from JUCO transfer Dwan Caldwell helped lead the Tennessee Tech men's basketball team to a 62-60 victory over the host of the Holiday Inn Downtown Marina Islanders Tournament, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, Saturday evening.
Tech came out firing on all cylinders to open play, draining its first five 3-point attempts to keep a typically stout Islander defense at bay. JUCO transfer Jordan Johnson, who joined the Golden Eagles this season after leading the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) in made 3-pointers last year, drilled his first two attempts and added another jumper to pace Tech in the first half with eight points off the bench.
Also contributing from behind the arc early in the contest were juniors Josiah Moore and Ty Allen and senior Jeremiah Samarrippas, each sinking an attempt. Moore, who finished with 10 points, was one of three Tech players to score in double-figures. Allen wrapped up the game with six points while Samarrippas finished with seven.
The Golden Eagles held the lead over the Islanders for much of the first half of play, but were never quite able to make that key bucket to grab complete control of the contest. Corpus Christi took advantage, grabbing the lead late in the final minute of the first stanza to go into the break ahead, 32-31.
Defense defined the second half of the game for the Tech squad as it would hold the Islanders to just 24 percent shooting (5-for-21) over the final 20 minutes of play following a first half that saw Corpus Christi hit 52 percent of its field goal attempts.
And leading the defensive charge was junior Javon McKay, whose stifling "D" prevented the Islander scorers from settling for jump shots and take the ball into the paint. McKay did more than just play lock-down defense in the contest too. The guard from Atlanta, Ga. scored a season-high 10 points, including eight in the second half alone, thanks to an impressive night at the charity stripe. He finished 8-of-9 on freebies, being rewarded for attacking the rim with several trips to the free throw line.
Also big for the Golden Eagles in the second half was the man they call "Big Po." Dwan Caldwell, a junior center played a team-high 27 minutes, despite fouling out with 30 seconds to play. The big man scored a career-best 12 points, including eight in the second stanza. Caldwell also added seven huge rebounds for the Golden Eagles, collecting three of those on the offensive glass.
Forward Jeff Beverly and John Jordan each recorded 18 points for the Islanders, but both were forced do a ton of work from the free throw line to get those points. Each hit seven free throws in the contest, but they combined to miss four attempts, including two down the stretch that would turn out to be huge.
Junior forward Ladon Carter once again provided several highlight-reel plays in the contest, giving the team much-needed energy throughout the affair. Carter finished the game with three steals, two blocks, and five points, two of which came off a monster alley-oop slam dished out by Moore. Midair, the JUCO transfer grabbed the ball over the defender and put down a clutch dunk to put Tech up by four while also collecting a trip to the free throw line.
The Islanders made things interesting at the end of the contest, as Hameed Ali hit a 3-pointer with 8.4 seconds remaining to cut the lead to 62-60. Corpus Christi then immediately fouled senior Dennis Ogbe with seven seconds to go, sending the forward to the line. Ogbe would miss both attempts and the Islanders drove the ball up the floor for one final go at it.
Ali took a contested jumper with three seconds left, but it fell short and Ogbe grabbed one of his eight rebounds to ice the game and send Tech into a four-way tie for the tournament. All four teams now sit 1-1 after two days of action.
Tech will go into the final day of the tournament with just one goal in mind. Defeat IPFW and wait to what happens after. If the Golden Eagles can defeat the Mastodons in the 1 p.m. CT tilt and the Islanders earn a win over Texas-Pan American, Tech will claim the tournament title. Fans can follow the action, broadcasted by TTU Sports Information Coordinator Dylan Vazzano, on 106.1 The Eagle.