By Layne Weitzel, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – It was obvious by the end of the third quarter of Tennessee Tech's Saturday afternoon game against Eastern Kentucky that the Golden Eagles were down, trailing the Colonels by 20 points.
But out? Absolutely not.
After scoring a combined 17 points in the first half and 19 points in the third quarter, Tech exploded for 32 points in the final quarter, falling to Eastern Kentucky 76-68 in the Hooper Eblen Center. That total marked the most points Tech has scored in a single quarter this season.
Sophomore Akia Harris ran away with the First National Bank of Tennessee-Special Olympics Player of the Game honor for Tech, scoring a career-high 22 points along with another career-high of five 3-pointers. Harris shot 80 percent from the field and was perfect from 3-point range.
"Somebody had to step up," said head coach Kim Rosamond. "We talked about that at halftime. I thought Akia Harris took that to heart. I've really been challenging Akia since we got back some Christmas that we need her to lead this basketball team. Kentoria Alexander gave us some really good minutes, and so we were able to put Akia at the 2… it freed Akia up to do some things in our offense."
Tech (3-10, 0-2 OVC) got off to a troubling start, turning over the ball 13 times. Eastern Kentucky (4-7, 1-1 OVC) capitalized, scoring 20 points off those turnovers (more than Tech's entire first-half point total). For the last 5:01 of the opening half, Tech went scoreless and gave up the ball four times, trailing 35-17 at halftime.
"We've got to stop building our own adversity," said Rosamond. "That's the frustrating part right now is we're beating ourselves. We didn't go into halftime and create a new offense. It was the same offense, but our 'how' was very, very different. We actually ran the offense, we executed the offense and we weren't sitting back waiting to see what they were going to do and how they were going to guard us."
The Golden Eagles regrouped in the second half, cleaning up their turnovers. Tech gave up the ball just six times, which led to only nine Colonel points.
Tech's shooting percentages were also drastically different in the third and fourth quarters, shooting 66.7 and 57.9 percent respectively after shooting 18.2 and 30.0 percent in the first and second quarters.
While the Golden Eagles were faced with a 20-point deficit by the end of the third quarter, it didn't faze them. The team gradually cut EKU's lead down to 69-64 with 1:01 left in the game and was forced to foul the Colonels. Eastern Kentucky hit seven of its 12 free throw attempts in the remainder of the game to come away with the 76-68 win.
Jordan Brock added 13 points and five rebounds for Tech in a career- and team-high 39 minutes. Yaktavia "Shug" Hickson also had 10 points, while MacKenzie Coleman again flirted with a double-double with 11 points and seven rebounds.
Although Tech continued to prove that it's a second-half team, the problem still for the Golden Eagles is learning how to put together a full four quarters of basketball.
"When we start doing that, we'll start getting different results," said Rosamond.