By Nate Perry, TTU Sports Information
EVANSVILLE, Ind. – By this point, the story of Tennessee Tech women's basketball's renaissance season is well documented. The Golden Eagles have been markedly better in virtually every aspect of the game this year, from nearly a 10-point-per-game increase in scoring offense, to a reduction of almost 20 percent in turnovers committed.
On Thursday afternoon, Tech will get yet another chance to measure its growth from a season ago when it enters Ohio Valley Conference Tournament play against Austin Peay at 1 p.m. CT. The No. 4 seed Golden Eagles and fifth-seeded Governors will battle in the first game of the day at The Ford Center in Evansville, Ind., which can be viewed on ESPN+ and heard on 106.1 The Eagle.
Live Stats/Broadcast Information
(Connor Onion, play-by-play; Helen Williams, color commentary)
106.1 The Eagle - Radio Broadcast
(Dylan Vazzano, play-by-play)
Tech finished the regular season as the second-most improved team in Division I based on its increase in overall wins (plus-13). That mark falls just short of VCU, which leads the country at plus-14.
In the process, Tech curtailed a pair of winless droughts against in-state rivals Middle Tennessee and Belmont, ending losing streaks of 13 games and 10 games, respectively.
Much of TTU's success has come from its excellent offensive balance, as nearly every player on the roster has shown the ability to take over a game. Nine different players have been a single-game leading scorer, and four average at least 9.0 points per game for the season.
Akia Harris was the most recent leading scorer, turning in a career performance last Saturday at Eastern Illinois. The junior point guard lit up the Panthers for a career-high 27 points, and connected on all eight of her field goal attempts, including a perfect 6-for-6 mark from 3-point range.
Lacy Cantrell has stepped up her game of late, averaging 11 points, seven rebounds and 21.3 minutes per game over her last four tilts. That stretch was highlighted by a 17-point, 8-rebound effort in a losing effort at SIUE.
Jordan Brock, who was named to the All-OVC First Team on Tuesday afternoon, has made 73 3-pointers on the season, which is already the fifth-highest single-season total in Tech history. She needs eight more to pull into a tie for fourth, and match Dana Bilyeu's 81 triples from the ______ season.
Kesha Brady came up just short of her fifth straight game scoring in double figures against EIU, tallying nine points. Her uptick in production has moved her season scoring average back into double digits at 10.0 per game.
While Kentoria Alexander has seen significant gains with her perimeter shooting, her last five games have been especially noteworthy. The senior guard went a combined 12-of-21 (57.1 percent) over those five contests, and is now ranked third in the OVC with a 43.3 percent rate from distance for the season (29-of-67).
AUSTIN PEAY PROFILE
Austin Peay is one of the five original members that remain in the Ohio Valley Conference, and has compiled a 256-371 record since the first season of women's basketball, 1977-78.
Austin Peay has won three OVC regular-season titles (1995-96, 2002-03 and 2003-04) and seven conference tournament championships (1996, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2009 and 2010).
Coach David Midlick's team turned in a 15-14 regular-season campaign in 2018-19 with a 10-8 record in the OVC, which left them one game behind Tech in the league standings.
The Governors rank sixth in the league in scoring offense (69.5 points per game), and seventh in scoring defense (67.1 points allowed per game).
The Govs are the third-best free-throw shooting team in the league, clipping at 75.8 percent from the charity stripe.
They also rank third in turnover margin at plus-3.48, forcing an average of 17.4 turnovers per game.
First Team All-OVC recipient Keisha Gregory leads the team in scoring with 13.6 points per game, which ranks ninth in the OVC. The senior guard ramped up her play during the conference season, taking the league's seventh-highest scoring average with 15.0 points per contest. Arielle Gonzalez-Varner lends strong support with the league's 13th-best average, 12.2 points per game.
Gregory sits atop the conference and is third in Division I in free throw percentage with an 88.7-percent season mark.
Gonzalez-Varner paces the OVC in field goal percentage 51.3 percent, and is sixth in rebounding with 7.9 per game. She's especially effective on the offensive glass, pulling down 3.7 offensive rebounds per game, which is the third-highest rate in the conference.
Gregory's 83 assists lead the Govs, with sophomore guard Brianah Ferby right behind her with 81.
Freshman Maggie Knowles is APSU's biggest threat from long range, as she has connected on 39.4 percent of her triple tries on the season. Her 41 made threes rank in the top 15 in the OVC.
The Austin Peay series is the longest in Tech history against a current Ohio Valley Conference team, as the two programs have matched up 99 times over 48 seasons. Tech owns a 77-22 advantage in the head-to-head.
TTU won their first 18 games against Austin Peay, before the Govs snapped the streak with back-to-back victories in 1979 and 1980.
The Golden Eagles resumed control in 1981, and recorded arguably their longest stretch of dominance against any team in their history. Tech won 45 of the next 49 renewals with APSU, which improved the Golden Eagles' series ledger to 63-6 through the 2001-02 regular season.
Austin Peay then put together its longest winning streak in the series, prevailing in five straight through the end of the 2003-04 season.
TTU has won 14 of the last 25 matchups since the beginning of the 2004-05 campaign.
Kim Rosamond will be searching for the second win of her tenure against Austin Peay. Three of her four career matchups with the Govs have been decided by four points or less.
Akia Harris scored seven points, dished out nine assists, and grabbed six rebounds.
Tech dropped a 72-65 decision to Austin Peay in their only previous meeting this year, which dealt the Golden Eagles their first home loss of the season back on Jan. 31.
Kentoria Alexander led Tech with 14 points on 6-of-10 shooting and added six rebounds and four assists, while Kesha Brady and Anacia Wilkinson came off the bench to score 12 points and 10 points, respectively. Wilkinson also gathered a team-high nine rebounds and blocked five shots.
This will be the 10th time the Golden Eagles and Govs have met in the OVC Tournament with Tech holding a 6-3 advantage.
TTU won the first five meetings in 1982, 1994, 1998, 1999 and 2000. The victory in 2000 was a memorable one, as it gave Tech its most recent tournament and NCAA Tournament appearance.
The teams met in the championship game in each of the next two seasons, as Austin Peay pulled out a pair of two-point victories to take back-to-back titles in 2001 and 2002.
Photo by Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information