By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. – It was a heartbreaker for the Tennessee Tech men's basketball team in Cape Girardeau, Mo. Thursday evening, as the Golden Eagles fell to Ohio Valley Conference rival Southeast Missouri in overtime, 71-66.
"I'm hurting for this team, but I'm proud that we've been playing well enough to win the last couple of games," Tech head coach Steve Payne said. "If they'll just keep playing hard, we'll be okay. I told them that sometimes it's not fair and tonight was one of those cases. They deserve to win. But nobody is going to feel sorry for them. They have to come in and play the next one."
Both sides struggled to get anything going on offense in the first half, grinding out the first 20 minutes to a 19-19 stalemate. In the second half, however, both offenses came alive, trading blows throughout.
The Golden Eagles (7-17, 3-8) took the first turn, catching fire early in the period on their way to building a 10-point lead. The Redhawks (8-16, 3-8) answered, chipping away at the Tech lead to take its own three-point advantage with 2:33 left on the clock.
In taking the three-point lead, SEMO capped a 10-0 run and seemingly had taken control of the ball game. Freshman point guard Jr. Clay changed the tune, beating the shot clock with an NBA-range 3-pointer to tie the game at 54.
Tech took advantage of a few Southeast Missouri turnovers, hitting 3-of-4 free throws to take a three-point lead with 19 seconds to play. SEMO's Alex Caldwell drew a foul on a 3-point attempt with 11 seconds on the clock, but missed the first free throw. He made the second two, pulling the Redhawks to within a point.
Clay went to the line with 10 seconds to go and hit the second attempt to give Tech a two-point advantage. Gabe McGlothan of SEMO trailed down the court and hit a jumper in the paint with just 2.8 seconds on the clock, tying the game at 58. Golden Eagle rookie Hunter Vick took a desperation heave from half court, nearly making the shot before it rimmed out to force overtime.
In overtime, SEMO simply outscored the Golden Eagles, hitting 4-of-6 shots from the field and 5-of-6 free throws to Tech's 2-for-7 showing from the floor.
One of the key factors in the contest was an early injury to graduate transfer Malik Martin. The 7-footer left the contest just five minutes in and would not return.
"Anytime you lose a key piece to your team in the first few minutes, that's hard to overcome," Payne explained. "Our guys did a great job. They competed their tails off. They deserved to win. The foul on the 3-point shot at the end of regulation was very close. I thought it was a great challenge and the kid just fell down, but we missed some free throws at the end of regulation. We need to make those to win the game.
"We're offensively challenged at times anyway and you take out one of our best offensive players. We knew that was going to be tough. When he's in the game, we can afford to have Courtney [Alexander II] guard a perimeter guy, which is what wanted. We still guarded the posts with some guards tonight, which is why the rebounding got away from us a little bit."
Alexander put together arguably his best performance in the purple and gold, pacing the Golden Eagle offense early when points were hard to come by. The senior turned in a career-high 20 points and snagged 13 rebounds for his fourth double-double of the season. He scored eight of the team's 19 first-half points and collected seven boards as well. He also finished the game 8-of-14 from the line.
"How do talk about a kid that just played as hard as he played?" Payne asked rhetorically. "I mean, he had 13 rebounds and 20 points. I've always said if he hits free throws at a 60 percent clip, he'd be a double-figure scorer. Defensively he's a difference maker. The problem is he's had some back issues and hasn't practiced much this week. Then he cramped up a little tonight and I had to take him out for a few minutes.
"Mike [Micaiah Henry] and Garrett [Golday] were both in foul trouble, so we just started to run out of bigs. Other than making a couple of more free throws and maybe one more defensive stop, I can't ask anything more of our guys than what they did tonight. They played hard, they played together and they competed. I think we ran out of juice at the end and that's just part of it."
Clay turned in yet another strong showing for the Golden Eagles, leading the team in scoring for the fifth straight game with 22 points. It marked his sixth 20-point outing of the season, the second-most by a freshman in school history. He also dished out a team-best five assists and finished an impressive 11-for-12 at the charity stripe.
Vick added 12 points to the mix in the contest, joining Clay and Alexander both in double figures and in playing at least 40 minutes in the contest.
"I love this team," Payne expressed. "I love those guys. They are great representatives of this program. We're having some growing pains with these young guys right now, but man I like them. They deserve success."
Tech will wrap up its two-game road trip with a contest at UT Martin Saturday afternoon. The tilt is scheduled for a 3:30 p.m. CT tip in Martin, Tenn.
Photo by Thomas Corhern