For Eastern Illinois, file this loss under “sickening.” For Tennessee Tech, simply file it as a win.
Tennessee Tech doesn’t lead until the final minute of the game, but five of Jud Dillard‘s 34 points in the last 53 seconds gives Tennessee Tech their first win in conference play, 77-73 over Eastern Illinois.
In a rare quick start for the Panthers, Eastern Illinois builds a 15-point lead in the first 13 minutes of the game. Back-to-back three pointers by Matt Marselle and Mitchell Hill help spark a run for the Golden Eagles, who pull within four at the break. For the next 19 minutes, Eastern Illinois holds on the lead, but is never able to extend it to double digits.
With 2:11 to play and Tennessee Tech down four, Dillard rebounds a missed Marselle 3-pointer, and hits a jumper to pull Tennessee Tech back within two. On the next possession, after a missed jumper from EIU’s Sherman Blanford, Dillard again pulls down an offense rebound, putting it back in to force the first tie since the game started. Morris Woods would miss a layup on the next possession for the Panthers, but Blanford would pull down the offensive rebound, and be fouled, sending him to the line. He misses the first, but hit the second, putting the Panthers back up one with 1:10 to play.
17 seconds later, Dillard would sink a three, putting the Golden Eagles up for the first time all game. A layup by Josh Piper on the other end would tie the game, but the Panthers simply had no answer for Dillard down the stretch. With two seconds remaining, Dillard hits the game winner. EIU’s inbounds pass would be intercepted, and Marselle would hit two free throws to seal it, as Tennessee Tech escapes Charleston with a win.
There is at least one positive out of this game from the Panthers, and that’s their offense. Their 73 points is a season high, led by 25 from Woods, who also pulled down a game high seven rebounds. Blanford added 16 points of his own, and tied Austin Akers with a team high six assists. The Panthers shot over 65% in the first half, finishing the game over 55% from the floor. Eastern Illinois struggled from the free throw line, hitting just 16-27 (59.3%) in the loss.
Dillard’s 34 points for Tennessee Tech tied his career high, as the senior shot 12-18 from the field. Jeremiah Samarrippas scored just seven points, but the JUCO transfer added a career high eight assists. Only one other Golden Eagle, Dennis Ogbe finished in double figures with 11 points. TTU won despite being outscored in the paint by 12.
Eastern Illinois obviously let one get away tonight, and it’s a win they desperately needed to make a potential run at this season’s OVC Tournament. But the Panthers shows obvious growth tonight, just simply had no answer for Dillard, which is a fairly common problem across the league.
Tennessee Tech is very fortunate to pull out the win on the road, but tonight was another example of how much this team relies on Dillard on offense. He’s not a bad guy to have to rely on, but Dillard’s 12 field goals on the night was just one short of the rest of the team combined.
The road swing continues for Tennessee Tech, who travels to SIU Edwardsville (4-9, 0-3) on Saturday. Eastern Illinois hosts Jacksonville State. (11-5, 3-2)