By Rob Schabert, Assistant Athletic Diretor for Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – From the moment the Agee sisters sang their stirring rendition of the National Anthem, Tennessee Tech basketball fans felt things would be in harmony Saturday night in Eblen Center for the Golden Eagles.
The preseason favorite to win the Ohio Valley Conference East Division, Tech used a strong presence in the paint and did a season-best job of protecting the ball to compose a 72-67 victory over Jacksonville State in the league opener for both teams.
Snapping a five-game losing streak, the Golden Eagles (4-9/1-0 OVC) almost hit a sour note late in the game when the Gamecocks (3-10/0-1 OVC) fought and scratched their way back from a huge deficit to pull within four.
Fans who were enjoying a sweet serenade by their favorite team suddenly found themselves hoping simply to hear the final buzzer.
Four players scored in double digits for Tech, led by junior center Candace Parson with 15 points and six rebounds. Junior Diamond Henderson and junior T'Keyah Williams added 14 each while senior Kayla Brewer scored 10 and blocked three shots. Williams topped Tech with nine rebounds while Henderson chipped in with five assists. Tech also got nine points and five rebounds from senior Molly Heady.
Candace Morton led all scorers with 24 points to pace JSU in her 13th consecutive game in double figures, while Destany McLin posted a double-double with 18 points and 11 rebounds. Bria'Unna Buckner contributed 14 points.
Tech had just two turnovers in the first half and finished with a season-low eight turnovers while forcing 16 by the Gamecocks.
Tech was able to put its 3-9 non-conference record on the shelf and start the OVC slate in perfect pitch. The Golden Eagles have now won four consecutive OVC regular season games and seven of the last eight dating back to their finish last season.
Tech outscored the Gamecocks 40-16 in the paint and has now won 11 straight against Jacksonville State. Tech is 18-3 all-time versus the Gamecocks,
Tech took control over the final eight minutes of the first half, after JSU used a couple of 3-pointers by Bucker to tie the contest at 19-19 with 9:09 remaining.
The Golden Eagles got scoring from five different players in a 19-4 run, moving the score from the 19-all mark to a 38-23 lead with 2:32 to play. Brewer scored five in the stretch, Williams and Parson had four each, and Heady drained a 3-pointer.
In fact, Tech closed the half on a 24-6 run to head into the break with a 43-25 lead.
JSU stormed back from a 23-point deficit in the second half to pull within four, 62-58, with under three minutes to play.
After being down 54-31 with 13:21 remaining, the Gamecocks began to whittle away at the lead and rolled through a 31-8 stretch that cut Tech's lead to four.
Six different Gamecocks scored during the stretch, led by Morton with eight. JSU first cut the difference under double figures on back-to-back 3-pointers by Buckner, making it a 62-53 TTU lead. Morton made it three consecutive from long range, followed by a pair of free throws, and the race was on.
Tech held off the rally with a layup by Williams on a feed from freshman Shunice Herron, and six free throws in the next seven attempts.
With the lead down to three, 70-67, with nine seconds left on a jumper by Morton, Tech scored the final two points of the contest with a pair of free throws by Herron.
Tech plays its final non-conference game of the season on Thursday (Jan. 2) with a visit to long-time arch-rival Middle Tennessee State.
GOLDEN NUGGETS: The two most recent winners of the OVC Media Awards were seated just a few feet apart Saturday, each broadcasting the play-by-play for their school's radio networks. Roger Ealey (2013 winner) called the action on the Golden Eagle Sports Network, while Mike Parris (2012 winner) was the voice for the Gamecock Sports Network….former Golden Eagle Jala Harris returned to Eblen Center, serving as a graduate assistant for the Gamecocks…Tech and JSU meet for the second time on Feb. 8 in Jacksonville, Ala… Combined over their careers, second-year Tech coach Jim Davis and first-year JSU coach Rick Pietri have led teams to 744 victories...the national Anthem was sung in three-part harmony by Morgan, Megan and Madison Agee of Pikeville.