By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – An absolute slobberknocker from start to finish, the Tennessee Tech men's basketball team (8-13, 4-2) outlasted in-state and Ohio Valley Conference rival Tennessee State (12-7, 3-3) Thursday evening with an 80-74 victory in overtime at the Gentry Center in Nashville.
While the Golden Eagles received incredible efforts across the board and the team out-defensed the league's top defense, nothing stood out Thursday evening as much as the clutch performance of junior guard Aleksa Jugovic.
The Leskovac, Serbia native tied a career-high mark and led all scorers on the night, dropping 30 points in a whopping 43 minutes of action. He hit all 11 of his free throw attempts on the night, and hit big shot after big shot late in the game to keep the Golden Eagles alive.
Jugovic was so clutch, he practically took the game over in the final 10 minutes between regulation and overtime, scoring 17 of Tech's final 25 points, including the visitor's first 11 in the extra period.
Nicknamed "Serbian Sugar," Jugovic kicked off the game with a sweet stroke from beyond the arc, draining his first two 3-point attempts. Fellow guard Kajon Mack also knocked down a triple early, joining his teammate to account for Tech's first nine points of the contest.
The two sides traded blows the remainder of the first half, with the Golden Eagles taking a 32-29 advantage into the break, despite Jugovic going ice cold from the field for the remainder of the half, finishing 2-for-5.
The shooting slump continued for the usual sharpshooter, as he missed his next five attempts from the field as well. With the Golden Eagles looking for a scoring option and Jugovic struggling to find his touch from everywhere but the charity stripe, senior Hakeem Rogers stepped forward in the second half.
Following the first 20 minutes of action, in which he scored just two points, Rogers controlled the second period, turning four rebounds and multiple fast breaks into 13 crucial points for the Cookeville squad.
With the score knotted at 38 all with 13:39 to play, Rogers took over, snagging a pass from junior Curtis Phillips Jr. after a steal and converting a 3-point play the old-fashioned way to kick off a 10-0 scoring run by the Golden Eagles. He hit a triple and a fastbreak layup in that stretch as well.
TSU answered, taking a one-point advantage with just over five minutes to play, but Rogers replied back, gathering another fastbreak lay-in to kick the lead back to Tech. Unfortunately for Tech, the guard would leave the contest with just over four minutes in regulation due to an undisclosed leg injury, ending his night prematurely.
In almost the same instant, Jugovic suddenly found life once again, hitting three jumpers in the paint over the next two minutes to add to a couple of huge shots and free throws from junior big man Mason Ramsey to keep Tech in front down the stretch.
Tennessee State's tenacious attitude in the paint and on the glass helped the squad claw back and tie the game with just 11 seconds to play, and eventually force overtime. The Tigers drew a foul and hit 1-of-2 free throws to force the extra period.
While the extra period was less than ideal, having to battle on for another five minutes in the hostile environment could have seemed even more daunting to the Golden Eagles, with Mack, redshirt freshman big man Micaiah Henry and Ramsey all having fouled out and Rogers on the bench due to injury.
Jugovic refused to let Tech give in.
Tennessee State opened the period with a triple from the corner. After Jugovic answered with a jumper in the paint, the Tigers went back up by three from a couple of free throws.
And then the Golden Eagle guard's heroics truly came to the forefront. Coming around off a screen, Jugovic grabbed a handoff from sophomore Savonte Frazier and pulled up for a highly contested triple, drawing a foul. Somehow, the ball hit iron and fell through the net, setting up a four-point play.
Jugovic easily converted, giving Tech the lead for the first time in overtime. After a TSU free throw and miss, the Golden Eagles gave the ball right back to its start and he didn't disappoint. With his man right on him, Jugovic drove the lane and buried a layup while also drawing another foul. His ninth free throw of the contest gave Tech the lead for good.
Tech held on down the stretch, snagging just enough rebounds and hitting just enough free throws to move to 4-2 in OVC play and collect its fifth consecutive overtime victory.
On top of his 30-point showing, Jugovic also dished out five assists and snagged four rebounds. His 11 made and attempted free throws – as well as his 43 minutes of play – all marked career-highs for the junior.
Frazier also turned in a couple of career marks with a team-high eight rebounds and 38 minutes of action in just his second career start. He also dished out five helpers. Rogers finished with 15 points in 20 minutes while converting 6-of-11 shots.
Ramsey also tallied double figures, posting 12 points, including 10 in the second half, while also hauling in seven boards. Freshman Colton Blevins saw his first action in league play, coming up with four huge rebounds and hitting 3-of-4 free throws in four minutes of the overtime period.
The Golden Eagles shot 76.5 percent from the charity stripe in the game, hitting 26-of-34 attempts. The team also dished out 18 assists and made seven steals.
Tech will say in Nashville for another tilt against an East Division rival on Saturday, an 11:00 a.m. CT tilt at Belmont. The contest will be broadcast live on the American Sports Network.
Photo by Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information