By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
EVANSVILLE, Ind. – A furious, late comeback bid came up just short for the Tennessee Tech men's basketball team Thursday evening, as the No. 5 seeded Golden Eagles (19-14) fell to No. 4 Jacksonville State in the quarterfinals of the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament at the Ford Center in Evansville, Ind.
Trailing the Gamecocks (21-11) by as many as 11 points with under two minutes to play, Tech never gave up hope, using the veteran experience of the team's five seniors and graduate student-athletes to mount a ferocious rally. The purple and gold started inside, feeding the ball to Mason Ramsey at the block and letting him go to work.
The Livingston native drove the lane and laid one in off that touched every part of the rim while also drawing a foul. With just 1:34 on the clock, Ramsey went to the free throw line and converted the old-fashioned, three-point play to cut the deficit to eight.
Jacksonville State could only run off eight seconds before the Golden Eagles fouled, sending JSU's Jamall Gregory to the line for a one-and-one. Gregory missed the attempt, allowing graduate guard Shaq Calhoun to corral the ball and start another Tech possession.
The Golden Eagles worked the ball around, eventually finding senior Aleksa Jugovic on the left side of the court who drove in a few steps inside the 3-point line and drilled a jumper to make it a six-point deficit. Trying to force a turnover, the Tech defense didn't foul until 46 seconds to play, sending Marlon Hunter to the line for another one-and-one.
The Gamecocks managed to snag the offensive rebound on the miss, forcing another foul that provided two tries at the charity stripe for Malcolm Drumwright. After making the first, the JSU senior missed the second, prompting a quick rebound by Tech senior Curtis Phillips Jr.
Phillips kicked the ball up to graduate guard Kajon Mack, who flipped it back to Phillips for a monster triple that cut the deficit to just four with 28 seconds left in the game. After Tech called its final timeout, Jax State scored a bucket to make it a six-point contest with 19 to go.
Quickly, Tech maneuvered the ball up the floor, with Mack hitting Jugovic on the right side of the court. His final shot in the purple and gold was like pure poetry, as "Serbian Sugar" let a rainbow fly over a JSU defender that tickled the twine to cut the deficit once again, this time to three.
Another Golden Eagle foul sent Burnell back to the line with 14 seconds to play. After missing the first, the forward made it a four-point JSU lead by sinking his second attempt. Mack beat the press that followed the inbounds, getting the ball over to Ramsey. The senior's 3-point attempt hit the iron and jumped off the backboard, free for anyone to snag.
Mack leapt into the air, caught the ball and tipped it in with four seconds to play to make it a two-point game. One final foul sent Drumwright to the line with two seconds on the clock, and the senior missed the front end of the double-bonus free throws. He sank the second, giving Tech one last hope.
Phillips through the ball to Mack, who attempted a three-quarter court heave to try and beat the buzzer, but the shot came up short. In the end, Jacksonville State held on for the 73-70 win.
Mack led the Golden Eagles with 16 points while dishing out seven assists with no turnovers. Calhoun tallied 12 points with three rebounds while Jugovic totaled 10 off the bench. Ramsey scored all 11 of his points in the second half and Phillips posted 10 points with seven rebounds.
Photo by Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information