By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
EVANSVILLE, Ind. – Defense and ball security propelled the No. 5 seeded Tennessee Tech men's basketball team to a first-round, 60-51 victory over No. 8 SIUE in the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament Wednesday evening. The Golden Eagles (19-13) advanced to the quarterfinals of the league's postseason event hosted at the Ford Center in Evansville, Ind. for the first time in history.
Tech's win over the Cougars (9-21) sets the Cookeville squad up with a rematch against No. 4 Jacksonville State Thursday evening at 6:30 p.m. CT.
The defense was out in full force, lifting Tech to its first OVC Tournament victory since claiming a 74-67 win over the Cougars in 2013-14. The Golden Eagles held SIUE to just 30.3 percent shooting from the floor and 12.0 percent from 3-point range. Both equaled season-low percentages by Division I Tech opponents this season. It also represented the third straight game that the TTU defense held its opponent to under 16 percent shooting from beyond the arc.
Leading the league in steals, the Golden Eagle compiled six on the night, while also blocking five shots and forcing a total of 11 Cougar turnovers.
While Tech's own offense struggled to score from outside the paint, the ball control more than made up for the team's 34.5 percent field goal percentage and 12.5 3-point percentage. The Golden Eagles turned the ball over just four times Wednesday evening, easily a season-low mark and just the second time all year the team finished with single digit turnovers.
With the offense struggling from beyond the arc, Tech used a healthy dose of paint touches and free throws to claim the win. Fifty of the team's 60 points came either in the block or from the charity stripe.
Senior Mason Ramsey went to town in the opening half, dropping 17 points while tying his career-high for field goal attempts with 13. Overall, the big man tallied 19 points on 9-for-17 shooting. He scored the team's first nine points of the ball game, keeping Tech within five points after an early SIUE run. He then helped orchestrate a 12-2 run over the final four-and-a-half minutes of the first half to provide a 29-24 advantage at the break.
Kajon Mack and Courtney Alexander took control of the game in the second half, with both providing key defense and offensive moments.
Mack hits 7-of-8 free throws to post 10 points with five rebounds and three assists in the second stanza while Alexander corralled six boards and scored seven points, including a couple of momentum-shifting dunks. Overall, Mack posted his first double-double of the season (and second of his career) with 12 points and 11 rebounds. Alexander finished with seven points and 10 rebounds, as well as two blocks.
The Golden Eagles will now set their sights on avenging a regular-season series sweep at the hands of Jacksonville State, matching up with the Gamecocks in the quarterfinals of the league tournament Thursday evening. Jax State defeated Tech in Jacksonville in early February, 82-65, before earning a 66-57 win over the Golden Eagles in Cookeville in the regular-season finale just last Saturday.
The contest will be featured on both the OVC Digital Network and 106.1 The Eagle.
Photo by Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information