Their defensive intensity still wasn’t at its peak, but the Tennessee State Tigers made key plays in overtime to defeat the Eastern Kentucky Colonels 85-81 Saturday night at the Gentry Center.
The win enabled TSU to avenge an earlier defeat to EKU, and to defeat both the Colonels and Belmont at home this season. It also helped them tie for the most Gentry Center wins in a year with 11. But despite posting a huge rebounding advantage (42-29), TSU had to rally to avoid their third home defeat.
Eastern Kentucky started quickly, and had an early 16-10 lead, thanks to Mike DiNunno’s explosive scoring (nine points in the first nine minutes). The Tigers trailed 35-27 at halftime, with 11 turnovers providing 16 points to the Colonels’ margin. They trailed through a good portion of the second half as well, but did get a quick two point-lead on a layup by Robert Covington with less than nine minutes remaining (8:35). The teams traded baskets down the stretch, with Patrick Miller and Jay Harris making key shots to give TSU a three-point lead with 1:30 left.
But an EKU three-pointer tied the score at 71, and each team missed last-minute shots, forcing overtime.
Kellen Thornton and Miller made consecutive outstanding driving shots to give Tennessee State a 77-74 lead. Then the Tigers made eight of 10 late free throws to seal the four-point victory. In addition to tying the season record for most home wins, they also matched their biggest victory over OVC opponents (also 11). The Tigers displayed better execution and shot selections, hitting 52.9 percent from the floor (27 of 51), with a superb 71.4 percent mark in the final 20 minutes, making 15 of their final 21 floor shots. Eastern Kentucky came within seven of matching the OVC record for three-point attempts, taking 42 .
Thornton was once more the Tigers’ top scorer with 25 points. He made nine of 13 from the floor and added nine rebounds. Covington had a career high in rebounds with 16, and also scored 13 points. Patrick Miller continued his recent hot shooting, scoring 19 points and also contributing 11 assists, only one shy of his career high. Jay Harris (11) and Jordan Cyphers (10) were other double-figure scorers for TSU.
The Tigers completed their regular season with a 17-13 record. They’ll face Morehead State Thursday in the quarterfinal round of the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament at the Municipal Auditorium. Their game begins at 6 p.m.
The Lady Tigers made a gallant comeback against Eastern Kentucky, erasing a 14-point second half deficit and going on a 34-17 closing run to edge the Colonels 69-66 in the first game. It also enabled them to have a winning conference season (9-7, 13-14 overall), and was one of their best late rallies this season.
The Colonels had held them to 32 percent shooting in the first half while building a 40-29 lead. But the Tigers found plenty of holes in their defense in the second half, hitting 50 percent. They also made 16 of 21 free throws.
It was their shooting from the line that helped the Lady Tigers prevail, because they had problems scoring from the field in the game’s final minutes. They went over five minutes (5:20) with a field goal, but their constant pressure forced 25 EKU turnovers. TSU turned them into 31 vital points. They also found a way to put the brakes on EKU’s Marie Carpenter, who had ripped them for 22 points in the first half, making six of seven from three-point territory. The Lady Tigers limited her to only four in the second half, and they also only surrendered one EKU three-pointer over that period. The victory snapped a five-game Lady Tigers’ losing streak against EKU.
Their first game in the OVC tournament was Wednesday afternoon at 2 p.m. against SIU-Edwardsville. They defeated TSU 75-69 Feb. 25 in Edwardsville, Ill., the only time the teams met in the regular season. SIU also finished 9-7 in the OVC (15-13 overall).