By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – A furious, second-half comeback bid came up just short for the Tennessee Tech men's basketball team Saturday evening, as in-state rival Belmont edged the Golden Eagles in the final minute, 75-70.
Trailing the Bruins (20-7, 12-2) by 14 points with 17 minutes to play, Tech (16-11, 8-6) clawed its way back over the next 11 minutes, tying the contest at the 6:06 mark on the clock after a layup from graduate guard and the Special Olympics Player of the Game, Kajon Mack. The veteran earned a trip to the free throw line on the play and promptly sunk his attempt to give the Golden Eagles their first lead of the game.
The final six minutes turned into an absolute war, with the purple and gold taking its advantage to as many as three points with just under three minutes to play on a Curtis Phillips Jr. layup. Belmont cut the Tech advantage to one with a little over 90 seconds to go and followed it up with a 3-pointer from senior Amanze Egekeze to take back control for good with exactly one minute on the clock.
A free throw with 30 seconds to go put the Bruins ahead by three, but Mack and the Golden Eagles responded quickly with a layup from the senior with 19 seconds left. Belmont knocked each of the following free throws after a Tech foul, and the Golden Eagles couldn't get a 3-point look to fall with five seconds to play.
Belmont's Dylan Windler snagged the rebound and sunk the clinching free throws with three seconds.
Tech overcame a very tough offensive first half that saw the team shoot just 29.6 percent from the field and 50 percent from the free throw line. Trailing 33-23 at the break, the Golden Eagles looked like a different team, shooting 53.6 percent from the floor and 81.3 percent from the charity stripe to push the Bruins to the limit.
Overall, the Tech defense held the league's top shooting unit to just 36.7 percent from the field and 23.3 percent from 3-point range. The Golden Eagles also out-rebounded the Bruins 40-39 on the night.
Phillips led the Golden Eagles with 17 points and chipped in six rebounds before fouling out with about two and a half minutes to go in a contest that featured 49 total fouls and 56 free throw attempts. Mack tallied 14 points and six rebounds while sinking six of his seven tries from the line, in addition to recording two blocks and a steal.
Graduate transfer Shaq Calhoun contributed 13 points, six rebounds, three assists and four steals before hitting the bench with five fouls with 30 seconds to play. Coming off the bench, junior Joan Duran turned in a career-high 11 points on a highly efficient 4-for-5 showing from the floor.
Belmont's Egekeze led all scorers with 28 points, including 13-for-13 showing at the charity stripe, and grabbed 10 rebounds. Kevin McClain scored 15 points while Dylan Windler finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds.
The Golden Eagles will hit the road to continue to a stretch of five-out-of-six games on the road next week, making a trip to in-state rival Austin Peay on Thursday, Feb. 15 for a 7:30 p.m. CT tilt. Tech will then face off against Murray State on Saturday, Feb. 17 at 7:00 p.m.
Photo by Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information