By Layne Weitzel, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – At certain points during Tennessee Tech's home conference opener on Thursday night, five Golden Eagle underclassmen roamed the floor, up against the much-older Morehead State Eagles.
Tech ended up falling 74-67 to Morehead State, but tonight's result will be far from a bad loss on the team's record moving forward. Veteran-laden Morehead State (10-4, 1-0 OVC) started all upperclassmen, including two seniors, while the Golden Eagles (3-9, 0-1 OVC) were without senior starting post Asia Harper due to a family emergency and had just one upperclassman, Yaktavia "Shug" Hickson, in their opening lineup.
Three Tech underclassmen (Akia Harris, Jordan Brock and Kesha Brady) played 37 minutes each, and freshman MacKenzie Coleman totaled 32 minutes. For Brock, tonight was the first time in her career that she has played over 30 minutes in a game.
However, Tech's youngsters rose to the occasion, despite the fact that some were playing in their first-ever collegiate conference game. Coleman, Harris and Brock all scored in double-figures, with Brock leading the way with 17 points.
Trailing by 16 points midway through the third quarter, the Golden Eagles chipped away at their deficit and were down just 66-64 with 34 seconds left in the game.
But in the end, Morehead State's experience won out. The Eagles hit 11-straight free throws to close out the game and hold on for the win, fending off Tech's fourth-quarter comeback.
After the game, Coleman recalled looking out onto the floor and only seeing the faces of her freshman and sophomore teammates – no Shug, no Asia and no older Golden Eagles to help them along.
"It shows our growth and our future," she said. "That's who we're going to have next year. When we need people to step up, it's not just going to have to be the upperclassmen. That's what's been a big emphasis lately."
The First National Bank of Tennessee-Special Olympics Player of the Game for Tech was Coleman, who put together an outstanding performance for the Golden Eagles. She was just a rebound away from Tech's first double-double this season, scoring 15 points and adding three steals and a career-high nine rebounds. Another career-high of six blocks made her the first Tech player to total six blocks in a game since Mariah Dean had six against Morehead State in Kentucky on Jan. 27, 2016.
Although the end result was ultimately not what the team wanted, Tech's youth showed promise, which could serve as a signal of what's to come in the remainder of this season.
"I thought our team got better tonight," said head coach Kim Rosamond. "We grew in every facet of the game. We executed so much better offensively, got stops and got back in the basketball game when we had a huge deficit. There were three freshmen and two sophomores and, at times, four freshmen on the floor when that happened.
"Overall, there was a lot to build from to take into Saturday against Eastern Kentucky."