COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – Despite a slow start Thursday night, the Tennessee Tech women's basketball team found its stride in the second half to earn a 24-point victory over SIUE, 79-55, and move to 3-0 in Ohio Valley Conference play for the first time since 2012.
Beating the Cougars ended Tech's drought of almost five years to the day without a victory in the series, with the Golden Eagles' last triumph coming on Jan. 11, 2014. It broke a streak of five straight for SIUE.
As a result, Kim Rosamond's team moves to an OVC-best 11-3 for the year, giving them their highest win total in any of the coach's three seasons, and the program's best start through 14 games since the 1989-90 team.
TTU also improved its record inside the Hooper Eblen Center to 6-0, the first time a Tech team has won its first six at home since 2001-02.
"Any time you can get a conference win, it's big," Rosamond said. "Looking at the final score, it did not feel like we had that large of a lead; it felt like a grind-it-out type of game."
"While I didn't like the energy we started the game with, and we looked a little lethargic at times, I thought our kids made plays when they had to make them. We shot the ball pretty well from the floor, and had contributions all the way down the lineup."
Tech's well-rounded offense was on display again in this one, as five players put up double-digit point totals led by 20 from sophomore guard Jordan Brock. Brock's 20-point outing was the first by any of the Golden Eagles this season, adding further proof of the club's scoring depth.
"We're very deep," said Rosamond. "I feel we have a number of players who could start, but you can only start five. I think we're doing a really solid job of using our depth, but we don't just have depth, we have quality depth on our team."
Brock matched a season-best with six three-pointers on her way to a 7-of-13 shooting night from the field (53.8 percent). The sniper from Harlan, Ky. has been absolutely lethal in three OVC contests, averaging 17.3 points per game with a field goal percentage of 60.7% (17-of-28), an astronomical 70.6% clip from 3-point land (12-of-17), and a perfect mark from the free throw line (6-of-6).
"Jordan shot the ball extremely well," Rosamond said. "If you give her an inch, she's going to knock it down. It's really nice to have a kid like that who can stretch the floor."
Fifteen of Brock's points came in the second half, where she joined the efforts of Anacia Wilkinson, Mackenzie Coleman and Kentoria Alexander to blow the game wide open in favor of the home team.
Wilkinson was spectacular after halftime, as she scored 10 points, hauled down 8 rebounds, and swatted four shots while playing 14 of the second 20 minutes.
For the game, Wilkinson earned her second career double-double – and first this season – with 12 points and a game-high 12 rebounds. She finished with five blocks.
"Somebody had to do it," Wilkinson said of leading the team in rebounding. "I had to step up tonight and go get those rebounds. (SIUE's) biggest strength was offensive rebounding so I needed to keep them off the offensive boards."
"It is heartwarming to have Naci sitting here by me tonight," Rosamond said of Wilkinson's Special Olympics Player of the Game honor. "This kid has been through it. Most players in her position probably would have given up. She has fought through injury, and when it looked like she was never going to play again, she just wouldn't give up. She's from Houston, so I will say her heart is as big as Texas."
Coleman scored four points in both the third and fourth quarters, and turned in the most encouraging performance of her season thus far. The Edmonton, Ky. native's versatility made her a problem for the SIUE defense, and she took advantage, scoring 15 points in 25 minutes – both top marks this year. She added four rebounds and one blocked shot as well.
Alexander had six points in the second half and 11 for the game, and had what has become a 'typical' night for the Swiss Army knife from Tullahoma. Alexander, the team's leading rebounder at 5-foot-7, had six of them in the game, along with five assists and four steals.
She now has 10 games with at least five rebounds, eight games with at least eight points, six games with four-plus assists, and five games with multiple steals.
Kesha Brady was Tech's best player in the first half. She scored all 10 of her points in the opening 20 minutes, and did so on perfect shooting (3-3 FGs, 2-2 3-pt. FGs, 2-2 FTs).
Akia Harris had five points and a game-high seven assists. Tech had 18 assists on the night, its highest total against an NCAA Division I opponent this season.
Abby Buckner scored four points and pulled down six rebounds, and Taylor Lamb chipped in two points.
The difference in the game was 3-point shooting. Tech made 11 of 28 attempts as a team for a 39.3 percentage, while SIUE made only 1 of its 16 attempts in the contest (6.3%).
SIUE showed up ready to play, showcasing a gritty brand of basketball, and hitting 58.7 percent of its field goals in the opening quarter (7-12).
Tech's largest lead was just one point until the late stages of the first, when it went on a 10-4 run over the final 2-minutes, 17-seconds to build a 20-14 lead.
SIUE would continue to hang around in the second quarter and into the third, where it would cut Tech's lead to three, 38-35, two and a half minutes into the second half.
"We are focused on one game at a time," said Rosamond. "When we were (7-22) last year, we didn't focus on our record, we didn't talk about it. We just talked about how we needed to grow and be better from one day to the next. If we can continue to do that, stay in the moment and to be better each day, then I really like where this team can go."
Tech will play game No. 2 of its three-game home stand when Eastern Illinois makes a visit to the Eblen Center on Saturday. The women's game will kick off another women's/men's doubleheader at 5:30 p.m. CT.