By Layne Weitzel, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – Just a little over a month removed from its first meeting this season, with Belmont, which the Bruins took by a score of 78-59 on their home court in Nashville, Tennessee Tech on Saturday night looked like a team that has truly grown up over the course of the OVC season.
Belmont needed a full 40 minutes to get by Tech at the Hooper Eblen Center, winning the game by a score of 68-60 and moving to 14-0 in the conference. It was one of the closest conference games Belmont (24-3) had played this season and its closest with Tech since taking an 80-79 win in double-overtime on Jan. 30, 2016 in Cookeville.
"I just can't say enough about our kids and how tough they were today," said head coach Kim Rosamond. "They overcame a lot of adversity throughout the game. They clawed. I do not think that the final score was indicative of the game – it was a lot closer than that."
Tech's defense proved to be one of its main strengths on Saturday night – the Golden Eagles became just the fifth team all season, including in non-conference play, to hold Belmont to less than 70 points. They also took away Belmont's scoring threat from 3-point range, limiting the Bruins to a season-low four 3-pointers and just 19.0 percent shooting from beyond the arc. Belmont had entered tonight's game averaging 9.4 treys per game and a 37.7 percent 3-point percentage.
At halftime, Tech trailed 24-23, holding Belmont to its second-lowest halftime point total in conference play.
Tech also out-rebounded Belmont 38-35 and grabbed two more offensive boards than the Bruins.
In the end, Belmont's slight edge turned out to be at the free-throw line. The Bruins made 24 of their 36 tries, while Tech made 15 of its 17.
Yaktavia "Shug" Hickson, the First National Bank of Tennessee-Special Olympics Player of the Game, collected 17 points, five rebounds, a block and a steal for Tech despite playing just 24 minutes due to fouls. Kentoria Alexander and Abby Buckner tied for the team lead in rebounds with seven each. Alexander's rebound total along with her six points marked new season-highs.
Tech also had two other double-figure scorers in Akia Harris (12) and MacKenzie Coleman (10).
Coleman's two blocks inched her closer to breaking the single-season freshman record for blocked shots, which Melinda Clayton Hatfield owns with her 51 blocks in the 1986-87 season. Coleman has 46 blocks this year.
"We are playing our best basketball this season," said Rosamond. "It's taken us a little while to figure things out, but we've never felt, at any point, like our team was what our record said. You're seeing this team really start to come together, and I'm excited about how we can finish the season."
Tonight's game also served as Tech's annual Play4Kay contest, a national initiative of the Kay Yow Cancer Fund that raises funds and awareness for cancer. Kay Yow, the organization's namesake and longtime women's basketball head coach at NC State, passed away in January 2009 after a long bout with breast cancer.
Tech honored a select group of cancer survivors and others affected by cancer by wearing pink uniforms and shoes in its game. The jerseys, generously sponsored by members of the Tech community and women's basketball team, were customized with the surnames of those in the group and presented in a ceremony at halftime of the men's basketball game.