By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – For just the second time in the 40-year history of the Eblen Center, the Tennessee Tech men's basketball team was defeated in its home-opening contest as Central Michigan downed the Golden Eagles Monday evening, 86-74.
With similar numbers across the board, the contest simply came down to edges won in the shooting percentage department by the Chippewas. Tech struggled to hit from deep for the second straight contest, firing at a 24.1 percent clip (7-for-29) from 3-point range while the visitors knocked down 33.3 percent of its treys (11-for-33).
Overall, the Golden Eagles shot 37.7 percent from the field, yielding to the 44.3 percent mark owned by CMU. Rebounding (Tech won 44-42) and turnovers (CMU won 10-12) proved equal enough for just one more key statistic to tell the story of the night. Aside from the shooting percentages, the ability to produce off turnovers played largely in favor for the Chippewas, a 19-3 advantage that nearly matched the margin of defeat for Tech.
Despite particular shooting struggles in the first half, the Golden Eagles trailed just 40-34 at the break, offering plenty of room for a second-half turnaround.
"I think we're a little unsure of ourselves offensively and that showed in the first half," head coach Steve Payne said. "I know we have some really good shooters on this team and we shot well all fall. We're just playing a little too unsure of ourselves with a little more weight on the ball and when we get out of that, we'll be okay. We'll make some more shots and get into a little bit better flow offensively."
The Golden Eagles came on strong in the second stanza, hitting 35.7 percent from deep and finishing 9-for-10 from the charity stripe. Tech also hit 43.3 percent from the field and saw two players produce at large levels, leading to a 54-50 lead at the 13:41 mark. The shots just didn't fall at a consistent enough rate to maintain control as CMU guards Marcus Keene and Braylon Rayson took over with big drives to the lane and timely 3-point makes.
Junior guard Aleksa Jugovic poured in 19 second-half points as part of a 25-point effort, sinking 3-of-6 attempts from downtown in the final 20 minutes. He also snagged five rebounds while finishing 6-for-6 from the line. Senior Kajon Mack flirted with a triple-double on the night, posting a career-high 18 points on 7-of-17 shooting. He also crashed the glass to the tune of a personal best eight rebounds and dished out a career-high six assists.
It was a Mack triple with just over seven minutes to go that seemed to ignite the crowd loudest, as the Tulane transfer walked the ball up the court, sized up his defender, and promptly pulled up for a 23-footer that cut the CMU lead to just four.
Central Michigan never allowed the score to get closer, getting plenty of production from Keene and Rayson. Keene led all scorers on the night with 30 points on 10-for-19 shooting while Rayson chipped in 18. David DiLeo posted 17 points with 11 rebounds for a double-double.
"Those two guys hit some tough shots and we missed some shots we needed to hit," Payne explained. "In an offensive game like that, good players make plays. Our ability to finish around the rim needs to be a little better. We're not finishing in the paint, especially on our drives, like we need to. We're going to shoot it better."
The Golden Eagles will get another opportunity for that first victory in 2016-17 on Thursday, Nov. 17 when the squad plays host to Alabama A&M in the second half a doubleheader with the Tech women's squad. Tip is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. CT and fans who can't make it out to the game can follow the action live on the OVC Digital Network or on 106.1 The Eagle.
Tickets are available at the Eblen Center ticket office, by calling (931) 372-3940 or by visiting www.ttusports.com.
Photo by Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information