By Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information
The momentum had swung away from the Tennessee Tech men's basketball team and hard. The Golden Eagles surrendered two double-digit leads, then a late, heated exchange seemed to give Jacksonville State some new life.
But Mack put the Golden Eagles on his shoulders. Between the 34-second and 19-second mark remaining in the second half, Mack made two steals and two buckets to tie the game at 68 and send it to overtime.
"I was thinking, 'C'mon, guys, we've got to use this opportunity,'" Jugovic said.
Tech head men's coach Steve Payne joked, "Maybe we ought to press more, huh? That was a heck of a play and we got fortunate breaks that time. We had some bad breaks over the course of the game, then we had some good breaks during that time that allowed us to hang in there and get the win."
Then, in the extra session, Jugovic knocked down a pair of free throws with 2.7 seconds remaining in OT to put the Golden Eagles up 79-78.
"The only thing I was thinking was that we really deserved to win," Jugovic said. "I knew what the shots meant, so I just really focused on them. We weren't going to give up. We were down what? Six or seven with 50 seconds left? Then Kajon made those plays and I still don't know how he did it, but I was so proud."
Payne added, "We had driven the ball more times but just didn't draw the fouls. They had to call that one – it was an obvious foul. AJ's a great guy to have at the line. We had some bad things happen to us down the line, but we just fought it off and fought it off and kept competing. When you come in here and play, you really have to stand up for yourself, because they really bullied us in Cookeville – physically and mentally. They were just tougher. Tonight, we had to stand up. To do that, emotions get into play, but they're a very good team, a well-coached team and Coach Harper and I go way back. I'm proud of our guys – that was a heck of a win."
JSU attempted a last-ditch 3-pointer, but it was no good, as the Golden Eagles locked up the victory for – and secured a spot in the Ohio Valley Conference tournament in Nashville.
Jugovic also reached an important milestone, breaking the 1,000-point mark in his career, the 35th Golden Eagle player to reach that plateau.
"That' a great honor," Jugovic said. "I just have to thank my coaches and teammates for believing in me, passing me the ball when I'm open and allowing me to make all those shots."
Mack had 18 points, but none were bigger than the four he had to close out regulation.
Jugovic was also clutch at the line, going 8-for-8 at the charity stripe.
Malcolm Drumwright led the Gamecocks (16-13, 8-6 OVC) with 25 points, while Greg Tucker had 11, and Jacara Cross and Andre Statam each scored 10.
Tech had a 12-point lead early in the contest, then JSU went on a 9-0 run to erase that deficit. The Golden Eagles also led by 13 in the second half, but JSU came storming back until Mack made his move in the closing seconds of regulation.
Tech returns to action on Thursday as the Golden Eagles travel to Morehead State.
"I'm thankful to coach this group of guys," Payne said. "We're really starting to get better and better."
Photo by Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information