By Bob Flynn
Register Sports Writer
MADISON COUNTY —
The Colonels (23-7, 12-3 OVC) picked up a school regular-season record 23rd win Thursday, beating Tennessee Tech, 69-54 in Cookeville Tenn.
With the win, EKU locks up the No. 3 seed and a first-round bye in next week’s OVC Tournament. The Colonels are set to wrap up the regular season Saturday at Tennessee State.
The Colonels can also gain a share of the OVC regular-season championship with a win Saturday over TSU and a Belmont loss to Jacksonville State.
EKU coach Jeff Neubauer said he felt his team was capable of having the season its had, even if most people outside Richmond didn’t.
“This is certainly something these guys can be proud of. They are aware of it and I believe they are proud of it and I know I am proud of them,” Neubauer said. “We actually believe as a team and it was something we talked about. I mentioned it at media day in the preseason. But I don’t think people outside this program and around the OVC, I don’t think they were expecting this of us.”
EKU struggled with its shooting much of the first half but still led 25-23 at the half.
The Colonels opened the second half on fire — hitting 10 of their first 12 shots — and continued to blister the nets, shooting 70.8 percent from the floor in the second half.
EKU scored 12 straight and 19 of the first 23 points of the second half to take a 44-27 lead after the first six minutes of the half.
The offense wasn’t the only part of the game that was clicking in the second half for the Colonels. One game after one of its worst defensive performances of the season against Valparaiso, the EKU defense was superb against the Golden Eagles.
The Colonels held TTU to fewer than 50 points until a three pointer inside the final minute of the game.
The Colonels also forced Tech into 24 turnovers — including 17 steals — which they converted into 27 points.
“We have been preaching about defense. It’s obviously how we are going to win if we are going to win here in March. Our defense tonight was very, very good,” Neubauer said. “I’m really proud of the defense we played and that is our goal, to force over 20 turnovers. We forced 22 and when 15 of them are steals, that leads to easy baskets.”
Corey Walden led the Colonels with 18 points, four rebounds, two assists and six steals. Glenn Cosey added 14 points, two rebounds and four assists, while Marcus Lewis also finished in double figures with 10 points and three rebounds.
Mike DiNunno had nine points, two rebounds three assists and six steals, Timmy Knipp had seven points and four rebounds, Jeff Johnson had five points, Eric Stutz had four points and Deverin Muff had two points.
Neubauer praised the defensive efforts of Lewis and Knipp for bringing much-needed energy to the team.
“Marcus did a good job. He got three rebounds and the five of six from the field was a bonus. We need guys out there who are committed to defending, especially coming off Saturday’s game. This is what our guys needed, just locking in and guarding,” Neubauer said. “Timmy did a good job out there tonight and he did some good things in the Saturday game as well, so he has had a good focus about him. We don’t know who is going to step up in different situations, but tonight Timmy did a good job and obviously Marcus as well.”
Neubauer said it will take a similar defensive effort Saturday against a TSU team that will be riled up after being upset by Morehead State Thursday at home.
“We’ll be playing a Tennessee State team that is going to be hungry when we see them, coming off a loss tonight,” Neubauer said. “Hopefully we can get our defense to double up what we did here tonight. We need the same thing when we play Tennessee State.”
Tip off for the Colonels and Tigers is 8:30 p.m. Saturday in Nashville.