By Ron Wynn
It was billed as the battle of the blues, but in the end a field goal drought allowed Middle Tennessee State University to prevail over the Tennesse State University Tigers 77-62 last Thursday night at the Gentry Center before 6,113. The Tigers shot only 33% from the field for the game, and went nearly 13 minutes in the second half without a basket from the field. That lack of scoring couldn’t be overcome, especially against a team that came into the game leading the nation in field goal percentage (54%) with a 6-1 record. TSU actually held them below their season average (51%) and forced 15 turnovers. But they weren’t able to hold a slim one-point lead once their shots stopped falling.
“When you have a team that shoots the ball the way they do and plays that kind of tough defense, it is tough enough to beat them if you play a perfect game,” TSU coach John Cooper said. “You have to know how to manage the game, know the situations and what plays to make. We didn’t do that, and we couldn’t hit any shots. Considering how poorly we shot from the floor, we hung in pretty well. They are smart, well-coached and know how to win games. These are things we are still learning.”
“Tennessee State is a good team and they are going to get better,” MTSU coach Kermit Davis said. “They beat a good South Carolina team at home, and that tells you something. We were fortunate to get them on a night when they didn’t shoot well, and they really put a lot of pressure on us. They came out on us in the first half and I think they caught us by surprise. We were fortunate to hang in with them, especially when some of our players didn’t have the kind of game that they normally would have.”
TSU’s fortunes were also affected by foul trouble that plagued Robert Covington. Covington had to miss long stretches in both halves, and a couple of his fouls came at the worse possible times. He picked up this third with a little less than two minutes gone in the second half, forcing Cooper to bench him. Then he picked up his fourth with about nine minutes to go, forcing another substitution. Covington did get his 12th double-double as a Tiger. He had 12 points and a game-high 10 rebounds, plus two steals and two blocks. But his absence hurt the Tigers defensively and on the boards.
Patrick Miller led TSU with 14 points. It was his fifth consecutive game in double figures. Kellen Thornton had 11 points, four rebounds and steal. He was also five for seven from the foul line. Wil Peters added nine points and four assists while logging 36 minutes, the most of any Tiger.
“He (Covington) hurt us a lot in the early part of the game,” Davis said. “No question it helped us a lot when he had to come out with fouls.” “There’s a thing that you have to understand when it comes to fouls,” Cooper said. “You’ve got to know the situation and you’ve got to know where you are on the court and the circumstances. Robert really hustles and plays hard and is an integral part of our team. When we have to substitute for him, it affects the rest of our game.” MTSU had four players in double figures led by Jimmy Oden’s 14 points.
TSU took its first lead at the 13:11 mark on a three-pointer by freshman Kharon Butcher. But a hot MTSU streak put them up six with a little over nine minutes left in the first half. TSU’s best stretch came during a six-minute period, with a Jordan Cyphers three-pointer giving them a 28-26 advantage. MTSU inched back in front by two (32-30) at the half. TSU had a solid defensive first half, holding MTSU to one of its worse marks from the floor (11 of 27 for 41%), while shooting 40% from both two (10-23) and three-point range (four of 10). However an ominous sign was Covington’s second foul, which came very late in the first half.
Then came his third foul, a reach-in on a rebound just as the second half was getting underway. The Tigers continued battling, and even forged a slim 44-43 lead with 13:46 remaining. Then TSU simply could not make a field goal. MTSU went on a 16-4 run, opening a 10-point lead with four and half minutes left in the game. Thornton’s layup at the 2:13 mark finally ended the field goal slump, but the closest TSU could get was 11 points. MTSU also outrebounded TSU 38-32, though the Tigers balanced that somewhat with eight steals. It was MTSU’s sixth consecutive win over TSU.
Earlier in the week, Coach Cooper made an announcement regarding senior forward Kenny Moore. The statement said: “Kenny Moore has been suspended indefinitely due to conduct detrimental to the team. He is a strong young man and has accomplished a lot during his short tenure here at TSU. We will continually work with Kenny to help him get back on track. Kenny is a bright young man who will graduate in December and that should be of utmost importance for him at that time.” Coach Cooper declined any further comment regarding Moore’s situation.
The Tigers (now 3-5) continued their tough pre-conference schedule with a road game against Belmont (5-2, 2-0 A-Sun conference) Tuesday night. The Bruins narrowly lost to perennial Top 10 foe Duke and defeated MTSU on their home floor last week. “You know when you go up against Belmont what you’re going to see,” Cooper said. “They always shoot the ball well, play aggressively and put pressure on you. We’ll have to execute a lot better, get good shots and take advantage of any opportunities we get, especially playing them on their floor.” Their next game at the Gentry Center is Saturday afternoon against Central Michigan.
TSU’s Lady Tigers won their fourth game of the season Saturday 74-69 against South Alabama. They survived a blistering South Alabama 40-point half by getting 42 of their own. They also hit 50% (nine of 18) from the three-point line, a major improvement over their previous 27% mark the first eight games. Kim Haynes led TSU with 16 points off the bench. Destiny Gaston had 15 points and 10 rebounds. Mansa El led all scorers with a career-high 23 points for South Alabama. Jennifer Johnson had 14, with Camille Reynolds and Sarda Peterson adding 11 each.
“Tennessee State deserves all the credit tonight,” South Alabama coach Rick Pietri told the Press-Register. “They played three times harder than out kids did, they wanted it more than our kids did and they played with more energy than our kids did. We played on our heels the whole game. I think our team underestimated the opponent. I think that is an understatement.”
The Lady Tigers now have consecutive road games. They face Jackson State Saturday and MTSU Dec. 18.