By Nate Perry, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – It took a little while, but the Tennessee Tech women's basketball team eventually found its groove offensively, using hot shooting in the second half and excellent performances from bench players to beat Western Carolina 77-58 on Friday night.
The victory makes Tech 3-1 on the young season, its best start since 2010-11, and gives the Golden Eagles back-to-back nonconference wins for the first time since December 2015.
Coach Kim Rosamond was pleased with her team's victory, but acknowledged there was plenty for her team to work on going into this weekend's tournament at Charleston Southern.
"Obviously any win is a good win, but we didn't shoot the ball very well overall tonight, and I didn't think it was our best effort defensively," she said. "Coming off a big, emotional win on Friday night, this was a game where we worried about whether or not our players would be up for it. But, our kids showed a lot of maturity, and I thought it was another step in our growth process."
The Golden Eagles were a little sluggish to start the game, but received their first bench boost from forward Anacia Wilkinson, who converted on her first three field goals after entering the game around the five-minute mark of the first quarter. She proved to be the difference early on, as Tech held a 16-11 lead after one.
Wilkinson added another bucket in the second quarter, and seven more points in the second half to finish with 15 for the game, one short of her career high.
"Naci is a player who can be a game-changer when she's playing at her highest level," Rosamond said. "She's 6-foot-3, but her wingspan is probably 6-7, and she can also stretch the floor with her ability to hit the high-post shot and drive from the high post. She's a tough matchup, and she's really starting to gain some confidence.
While this was a breakout offensive game for Wilkinson, her defensive exploits in 2018-19 are already well-documented, as she entered Monday's game tied for 14th nationally with nine blocks on the year.
The second period was where Kesha Brady became a major factor in the ballgame. After getting on the scoresheet with a three-pointer just before the first-quarter horn sounded, Brady added eight more points in the second stanza for a team-high 11 at the half. She helped widen Tech's lead to double figures in the process, as the home team took a 38-27 edge into the locker room.
Brady went on to be one of Tech's co-leaders in scoring with 18 points for the contest, her best scoring output of the season, and third-best of her career.
Paired with Wilkinson, the tandem accounted for 33 of an impactful 40 bench points, a category where TTU bested WCU 40-15.
"I thought Kesha Brady came in and gave us a huge, huge lift," Rosamond said. "Her energy off the bench was tremendous. One thing Kesha's been working on is getting her motor back, because that's what makes her so special. You're starting to see her motor again, and when she's playing all out, full speed, she changes the game for us."
"I was out there just playing and doing what the coaches were telling me to do – go out there and do my job," said Brady. "I was just trying to do my job, and I wasn't trying to do too much."
Western Carolina got as close as nine points in the third quarter before it was Jordan Brock's turn to take the offensive reins for Tech.
Starting at the 3:27 mark of the period, Brock buried her second triple of the game, and subsequently caught fire, as it started a streak of five made three-pointers in a row for the Harlan, Ky. native.
Brock's six long-range bombs accounted for all 18 of her points, and elevated her to a 43.2-percent clip from distance this season. Her offensive explosion also acted as the knockout blow to the Catamounts, who never got within 15 points of the Golden Eagles in the fourth quarter.
"Jordan just flat-out went on a roll," Rosamond said. "I think it speaks to that young woman's toughness, because she was having a rough shooting night up until that point. But that's how it works with shooters, they just have to keep shooting and believing that that next one is going to go in. When (WCU) started to chip away at that lead, she kind of went on that run all by herself and closed the door on them."
TTU also got eight points and four steals (team high) from Abby Buckner, eight points and seven rebounds (team high) from Lacy Cantrell, a career-high seven points from Taylor Lamb, and three points and eight assists (team high) from Akia Harris.
"Our team chemistry right now is really, really good, and I think we're just scratching the surface with this team," said Rosamond. "We can't look ahead, we can't look behind, we've got to just stay in the moment and try to be better every day than we were the day before."
The Golden Eagles will face two stiff tests away from home this weekend when they travel to Charleston S.C. for the Buccaneer Classic.
Tech will get the host Charleston Southern in their first game on Saturday at 1 p.m., and follows up with a 3-1 Old Dominion team on Sunday that already beat Cincinnati at home, and nearly upended Virginia. TTU-ODU also tips at 1 p.m.
"We're excited," said a smiling Rosamond. "It's going to be a great experience for our student-athletes. We get the home team Charleston Southern first, which will be a great opportunity to go on the road and see what we're made of."
"Then, we turn around and play an Old Dominion team that is rolling right now, and has some impressive results already this season. It will be a huge challenge for us, but also a huge opportunity for continued growth."
Photo by Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information