CHARLESTON -- The Tennessee State men’s basketball team came in with a reputation of making teams uncomfortable offensively with trapping defense the Tigers play. Teams were turning the ball over 16.1 times per game against the Tigers, who were third in the Ohio Valley Conference in steals per game (7.4).
So EIU knew what to expect, but the Panthers didn’t handle TSU’s pressure well, especially late in the game. With the game tied at 63 with under 1:50 left, EIU had two costly turnovers and TSU took the lead.
EIU never found a way to get the lead back or to tie the game up as TSU held on for a 69-65 win on Thursday at Lantz Arena.
The Panthers, who fell to 6-10 overall and 2-3 in the Ohio Valley Conference, turned the ball over 22 times. TSU scored 20 points off those turnovers.
“That’s what they do, they make you turn it over. You can’t have 12 out of your frontcourt,” EIU coach Jay Spoonhour said. “Tennessee State puts you in positions where you aren’t comfortable making some of the plays we had to make and that’s kind of what happened. You want to attack but then you have to choose the right times to do it and that’s not something they’ve had to do because you’ve had other guys making them.
“Most of those were forced, but we had some unforced ones there at the end that were killer.”
The game was tied at 63 when EIU got a rebound off a missed free throw, but an errant pass landed in the hands of Spencer. EIU forced a miss on the possession, but turned the ball right back after Spencer jumped a passing lane and went in for the easy layup for a 65-63 lead with 39 seconds.
“They just sped us up a little bit and got us out of our comfort zone,” EIU guard Montell Goodwin said. “We are used to playing comfortable. But they sped us up and we turned the ball over.”
EIU had a chance to tie when Ray Crossland went to the free throw line with 6 seconds left for two free throws. But he only made 1-of-2 and TSU made their final four free throws to hold off EIU.
The Panthers were 16-of-19 from the line going into the final 6:49 of the game, but missed three of their next four free throws.
“At the end of games, you have to step up and make plays,” Spoonhour said. “Reality is they made plays and we didn’t. It can be diving on a ball or getting a rebound or it can be making free throws and hanging onto it.”
EIU struggled from the field to start the game, hitting five of its first 13 shots. But it was enough for the Panthers to go up 14-3 on TSU because the Tigers missed their first nine shots.
Goodwin thought the Panthers didn’t take full advantage of TSU’s shooting woes to begin the game.
“We could’ve kept attacking. I felt like we laid off a little bit,” Goodwin said. “They just came out on top.”
Amari Chaney hit TSU’s first shot of the game at the 11:32 mark of the first half and the Tigers went 9-of-13 from the field to close out the half. Chaney sparked a 10-2 run for the Tigers as EIU’s lead was cut to 16-13 with 9:27 left in the half.
Montell Goodwin responded with a 3-pointer to give him 10 points in the game already and he added two more free throws to put EIU back up 21-13. Goodwin was held scoreless for the rest of the half, though.
After Goodwin’s two free throws, EIU went 3-of-9 from the field, had four turnovers and were 1-of-4 from the free line.
“We have to be really, really sharp in how we run stuff because we can’t create stuff,” Spoonhour said. “We have to execute things very well and if teams take us out of being able to execute it, now are left with having to make plays. That’s what this whole game is all about is being able to make plays.”
TSU took advantage and went on a 13-3 run to take a 26-24 lead with 2:07 left in the half.
The Tigers were up 28-27 when EIU got the lead back right before half when Logan Koch, who only hit two of his last 11 3-point attempts, hit a shot from behind the arc with 5 seconds left to give EIU a 30-28 lead going into halftime.
Mack Smith hit a three and Muusa Dama scored to give EIU a 35-28 lead right out of the break when TSU coach Dana Ford called a timeout. TSU got right back into it with back-to-back 3-pointers by Delano Spencer and Darreon Reddick to make it 35-34.
EIU was up 48-43 when TSU went on a 6-0 run to take its first lead of the second half at 49-48 with 9:50 remaining.
The game was tied at 63 when Spencer got his steal and layup to give the Tigers the lead for good at 65-63.