COOKEVILLE, TN— Early in the first half, it appeared the Racers were going to blow the doors off of Tennessee Tech, but a 28-13 run by the Golden Eagles trimmed the lead to one at halftime.
“Obviously when you get up big like that you want to go ahead and bury them,” head coach Matt McMahon said. “You’d love to win every game by 50, but credit to Tennessee Tech, they continued to fight. They played extremely hard. I thought with their ability to spread the floor with the four guards, who can all really shoot it, it put us in some difficult spots defensively.”
Still, the Racers were clearly the better team and, despite an off night from Tevin Brown, they came out with a win 81-69.
So how did the Golden Eagles keep it close? They utilized a four guard lineup and spread the floor out which made the Racers counter and scramble their lineup to matchup. As good as Demond Robinson has been this season, Saturday’s game was one that forced him to watch from the bench more.
“Demond’s our bruiser. He’s our physical, imposing guy around the badger that can protect the rim,” McMahon said. “They we’re bringing him out to mid-court the entire time and making him guard ball screens and he wasn’t terrible by any means, it was just a night where it was going to be better for us to go a little bit smaller and quicker in our frontcourt to try and contain their four guard attack.”
The opening 10 minutes saw the Racers hit TTU with a 19-0 run but the Golden Eagles responded quickly with a run of their own and even though the Racers led at the half, the momentum was clearly in favor of TTU. McMahon said he gave his team a clear message in the locker room at halftime.
“You get up 27-9 and the other team makes a great run, they hit you, and things aren’t going well and you go into halftime up by one, and you feel like you’re losing by 20,” McMahon said. “You’ve got to maintain your composure and understand that’s part of it. The other team is trying to win too. Here’s why it happened. Here’s why it happened. Let’s make the corrections and go out with great confidence to start the half and work to build another lead, and I thought our guys handled that well.”
“Often times you see a team give up a run like that and they filled up shop but I thought our guys showed good maturity there.”
DaQuan Smith knocked down a pair of three’s to start the second half and the momentum returned to the Racers side.
KJ Williams led a quartet of Racers in double-figure scoring with 17 points, while DaQuan Smith hit four 3-pointers for 16 points. Jaiveon Eaves scored 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting and Anthony Smith had his fourth double-double this season on 14 points and 10 rebounds. Brown finished with nine points on 3-9 from the three-point line.
Attacking the paint worked once again for the Racers as they shot 50% from the floor and dominated the points in the paint.
“I thought the advantage we held in the paint was more to our benefit,” McMahon said. “I thought our guys really executed down the stretch when we had to put the game away.”
The win moves McMahon to 98-47 (.675) in his fifth season as he closes in on becoming the third-consecutive Racer coach to reach 100 wins and the ninth overall. McMahon is 53-18 (.746) in OVC games.
The Racers stay on the road next week with games at UT Martin and Southeast Missouri (Jan. 16 & 18).
MSU moved to 4-0 and kept a share of first place in the OVC with Austin Peay. The Govs are MSU’s travel Partner and won Saturday at Jacksonville State 71-67. There is a foursome of teams at 3-1 including Belmont, Eastern Kentucky, Morehead State and Tennessee State.