By TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – It's not over. That is the way the Tennessee Tech women's basketball team is treating its incredible 2018-19 campaign, hitting the hardwood as relentlessly as ever in preparation for a potential postseason bid.
The Golden Eagles certainly belong in the discussion after boasting the second-largest turnaround in Division I women's basketball this season behind the direction of the Ohio Valley Conference's Coach of the Year, Kim Rosamond. Tech won 14 more games in 2018-19 than the 2017-18 counterpart, rolling off 21 victories, the team's most since 2010-11.
"We have talked and preached process since the day our staff arrived in April of 2016, and our players have bought into that process," said Rosamond. "You can't skip steps in creating a championship program, and experiencing the postseason is the next vital step our program needs to take to reach the level of excellence we are pursuing.
"To be in the mix for postseason play in just three short years is a testament to these players, their buy-in and belief in our culture, and their commitment to elevating this program back to a championship level."
Looking for a chance to keep the resurgent run going, Tech will join a large group of teams waiting on the announcements of the fields for both the Women's National Invitation Tournament (WNIT) and the Women's Basketball Invitational (WBI). Those decisions will be made the night of Monday, Mar. 18, providing the Golden Eagles the chance to continue to improve through practice and argue their case for a bid.
The case is strong for a team currently ranked in the top-150 in RPI. Tech rolled to a 21-10 record, including a 12-6 mark in OVC play. The 12 league wins and fourth-place finish were the best marks by the purple and gold since 2012-13.
"This young team has achieved so much this season," Rosamond said. "From having the second largest win increase in Division I basketball to having the most wins in eight seasons, Tennessee Tech is one of the best turnaround stories in women's basketball this year. These players have earned the right to still be playing in March, and our seniors deserve to be rewarded with playing in the postseason."
The Golden Eagle talent translated to both home and road wins relatively equally, equating to nine triumphs in true road contests and an 11-3 mark in the comfort of the Hooper Eblen Center. Both represented the program's best showings in those categories since 2010-11.
Those home wins were made sweeter in front of the best fans in the country, a fact represented well in the league. Tech led the conference in home attendance, boasting more than 26,000 fans in the seats for its 14 contests in Cookeville.
The boost from those home crowds helped the Golden Eagles to their first victory over in-state rival Middle Tennessee in nearly 14 years, a squad that finished 20-9 overall and 11-5 in Conference USA play during the regular season.
That confidence from its fans in Cookeville translated to the road as well. At the very beginning of the OVC slate, the Golden Eagles went into the Curb Event Center and snapped one of the most impressive streaks in the country. Tech ended Belmont's 47-game winning streak in OVC contests, defeating the eventual OVC Tournament champion Bruins, 77-72, on their own floor.
Just over a month later, the road magic surfaced again as the Golden Eagles took down league foe UT Martin, the other OVC Tournament Championship game participant, in Martin.
Tech won the contest 80-76 behind the kind of offensive production that led to an increase of 9.7 points and decrease of 3.7 turnovers per game from the 2017-18 campaign.
Tech used that offensive prowess, boosted by the best free-throw shooting in the league, to clinch its first OVC Tournament victory since 2013, advancing to the semifinals after a 68-57 win over Austin Peay. The work done at the charity stripe ranked 10th in the nation in terms of percentage (77.4) and 13th among all Division I teams in terms of total makes (467).
Sophomore guard Jordan Brock, an All-OVC First Team representative, led an extremely balanced scoring attack all season, averaging 11.9 points and 2.5 triples per game. A total of eight Golden Eagles averaged at least six points per game during the season.
While the Golden Eagle offense was certainly special, the defense held its own all season, ranking third in the league behind one of the most dangerous shot blockers in the entire country. Junior forward Anacia Wilkinson was a force to be reckoned with throughout the year, ranking ninth nationally with a whopping 80 rejections, by far the most in a single season in school history.
Prior to this season's OVC Tournament berth, Wilkinson was one of just two Golden Eagles to have experienced any type of postseason action. Following the trip to Evansville, Rosamond now hopes for a WNIT or WBI bid to get her young ball club more exposure to the acquired taste of championship basketball.
"Outside of Naci [Wilkinson] and Akia [Harris], who were part of the 2016-17 team that made the OVC Tournament our first year, there is not one player on our roster that has experienced what the postseason looks like or feels like", Rosamond said. "March is a different beast, and until you have been there, you really have no way of understanding how you have to raise your level of play in order to have success during this special time of the year."
A program rich in history, a spot in the postseason would give the Golden Eagles a chance to add to their 945 all-time wins and their 38 postseason victories. Tech already boasts 24 postseason appearances in school history, highlighted by 10 showings in the NCAA Tournament.
Tech won't just sit around waiting to hear the news, either good or bad. The Golden Eagles will continue to do what put them in the conversation for a postseason berth in the first place. Maintain the tradition of one of the best women's basketball programs in the country through hard work, sacrifice and dedication.
"With seven sophomores and two juniors on our current roster, this opportunity would be a huge boost for our team going into the 2019-20 season," Rosamond explained. "You can't put a price tag on experience. We learned that last season going through the growing pains of being one of the youngest teams in the country; but the experience we gained last year has certainly paid off for us in a big way this season. Any postseason experience would be extremely valuable for the future growth of our program, and we are very excited about the possibilities that lie ahead. Plus, we would love to be able to see Kentoria [Alexander] and Lacy [Cantrell] end their careers here with a postseason championship."