By Nate Perry, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – Good teams have to be able to win games in different ways, and on Thursday night, Tennessee Tech women's basketball showed that capability, using tough defense, poise under pressure, and plenty of grit to come away with a 62-59 victory over Jacksonville State in the Eblen Center.
"Not the prettiest – definitely not the best that we've played all year, but a really big win," said head coach Kim Rosamond. "To look and see 18 overall wins and 10 conference wins is really, really big."
Tech improves to 18-6 on the year, and 10-3 in the Ohio Valley Conference, which gives Rosamond's club sole possession of second place by way of Morehead State's loss to Austin Peay.
The 18 victories are a strong testament to the program's growth in Year 3 of Rosamond's tenure. After a 10-win campaign in 2016-17 and seven wins in 2017-18, the 2018-19 squad has now eclipsed the combined total.
The 10 conference wins is the most since previous coach Jim Davis's first season at the helm, 2012-13.
"I thought we outworked (Jacksonville State) tonight," Rosamond said. "Now, that is really, really hard to do. They are an extremely well-coached team, and I think Coach (Rick) Pietri had them ready to play. They're playing better than they've played all year, but our kids found a way."
One of the obstacles in 'finding a way' was another difficult night from the field, as the Golden Eagles clipped at 36.8 percent (21-of-57) for the game, and failed to hit the 40-percent mark for the third time in their last five contests.
"They made it really tough for us on the offensive end," said Rosamond. "They are the best defensive team in the league, and we knew that coming in. They made it really difficult for us to score – and then you add in the 11 blocks they had – it made it very hard for us to get into the paint and get to the rim, which is something that we do extremely well."
On the heels of a second quarter that saw TTU put up its best shooting numbers of the night (6-of-11, 54.5 percent), the top-ranked JSU defense, which allowed just 57.7 points per game heading into Thursday's clash, was at its best in the third.
While holding the Golden Eagles to just 3-of-17 from the floor (17.6 percent), the Gamecocks would take their first lead of the game, 43-41, with 1:38 to play in quarter No. 3.
"They just did a great job defending us," said Rosamond of the third stanza. "We got frustrated, and we didn't execute very well, but that's also a credit to them."
While Jacksonville State's defensive numbers were a little better, Tech was pretty good in its own right, limiting JSU to 42.9 percent for the game, and 2-of-13 from 3-point range.
"A lot of times you can let (poor offense) affect you on the defensive end, and, outside of a little stretch where they took the lead, I didn't think our kids allowed our offense to affect our defense," Rosamond said. "I thought our ability to defend was huge."
Mackenzie Coleman, who notched her fourth consecutive game in double figures with a team-high 12 points, hit a pair of free throws in the closing seconds of the third quarter to tie the game, and set up a thrilling final 10 minutes.
Tech trailed by one possession for most of the fourth quarter until a series of events swung the tide in the home team's favor, where it would stay until the final horn.
"There were three big plays that really stand out," Rosamond said. "Two of those were Jordan Brock's threes in the last three minutes. They held her in check. Up until that point I think she was 0-for-7, but she wants the ball in her hands. She hit two huge ones that just lifted us. Then, the charge (drawn) on Rayven Pearson. Getting her out of the game was huge because at that point we couldn't stop her. So, when we were able to foul her out, I thought that was a pivotal point in the game."
Brock was in fact responsible for all three winning plays.
Guarded closely by JSU's Yamia Johnson, Brock created just enough space with a crossover dribble and buried her first triple from the left wing – her first points of the game – to knot it at 52.
On the ensuing Gamecock possession, Brock established position on Pearson and absorbed the blow as she made her way to the basket, drawing the offensive foul that expelled JSU's physical center from the contest with 3:06 to play.
Following an Anacia Wilkinson jumper that restored Tech's two-point lead, Johnson evened the score at 54 with a pair of throws.
With the game on the line again, Brock used a very similar move to gain separation at the top of the key, stepped back, and hoisted a 24-footer that found the bottom of the net to give TTU a 57-54 advantage with 1:22 to go.
Another defensive stop turned the game into a free throw contest, where Tech did enough to clinch the victory.
Wilkinson was Tech's other double-digit scorer with 11 points, but made a meaningful impact on multiple columns of the box score, adding a team-high six rebounds, four blocks, and one steal.
Kentoria Alexander scored nine points; Akia Harris had eight and four rebounds; Lacy Cantrell chipped in seven tallies; Brock swiped a team-high four steals to go with her six points; Kesha Brady had five points and five rebounds; and Abby Buckner scored four points to complete TTU's production.
"At the end of the day, our kids found a way," Rosamond said. "Elite teams – championship teams – find a way to win regardless of whether you have to score 99 points or 62, and I thought our kids did that tonight."
Tech will play host to Belmont on Saturday night (Feb. 16) at 5:30 p.m. in a highly-anticipated rematch. The first meeting was epic, as TTU ended the Bruins' 47-game winning streak over OVC opponents with a 77-72 victory in Nashville.
Photo by Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information