By Bob Flynn
Register Sports Writer
MADISON COUNTY —
The Colonels came from behind to claim their 20th victory of the season Thursday, 80-69 over Tennessee Tech.
In a game that at times resembled a slugfest between two boxers, it was EKU (20-6, 9-3 OVC) that delivered the final knockout punch.
The teams traded leads four times in the second half before the Golden Eagles pulled out to a five point lead at 68-63 with 5:04 left in the game.
That’s when the Colonels turned up the defensive pressure fueling a 12-3 run that gave EKU an 80-66 lead with under a minute to play to seal the win.
Tennessee Tech had only won three games in conference play but they didn’t play like it.
Coach Jeff Neubauer said that’s what he expected from a team playing for it’s post-season life going into the game.
“This was not the best we’ve executed. But at this time of year teams that are just trying to survive are going to compete,” Neubauer said. “It is going to be physical and it’s going to be tight, but our guys overcame that here tonight. I like the way our guys stayed with it. Our fans are not used to watching this, but our guys were gritty.”
Things started out well for the Colonels as they built an 11-3 lead on back-to-back-to-back three pointers by Glenn Cosey, Mike DiNunno and Corey Walden.
TSU quickly cut the lead to two on a three pointer by point guard Jeremiah Samarrippas and although they continued to lead, the Colonels could never pull away from the Golden Eagles who eventually tied the game at 28-28 with just over two minutes left in the first half.
Tech took a three point lead into the locker room on a three pointer by Ammanuel Diressa.
The second half was more of the same with Tech building their lead to five at 35-30, then again at 37-32, and each time the Colonels cut the lead to two, they would push it back out again.
The game was very physical and chippy throughout, with players doing a lot of banging and talking to each other.
There were three technical fouls called in the game, and it was the last two, a double technical on DiNunno and Samarrippas midway through the second half that seemed to ignite the Colonels.
Following the technicals, EKU went on a 7-0 run — all by DiNunno on two three pointers and a free throw — turn a two point lead into a 66-57 lead with 6:48 to go.
From that point on, the Colonels defense and rebounding took over.
Eric Stutz continued his outstanding play in recent games grabbing several huge rebounds and Tarius Johnson drew a charge to kill a Golden Eagle surge as the Colonels took control of the game.
Neubauer said he warned his team to play defense without using their hands after the two technical fouls and he was pleased with the way they played the rest of the way.
“After the double technical and it being such a chippy game, sometimes referees end up blowing whistles on everything,” Neubauer said. “We made a point in the huddle to tell the guys they had to guard without putting their hands on them because everything is going to be called a foul. I think our guys did a great job at that point of guarding down the stretch without using their hands.”
The Colonels converted their defense to offense very well in the game, forcing TSU into 14 turnovers, which the Colonels turned into 24 points on the other end.
DiNunno led a balanced scoring attack for the Colonels with 21 points. He also had three rebounds, three assists and three steals while guarding the lightweight quick Samarrippas.
Cosey finished with 17 points, including four-of-seven three pointers, Stutz had 14 points, seven rebounds and one assist, while Tarius Johnson had 13 points, six rebounds and two assists.
Corey Walden added nine points, five rebounds and four assists, Jeff Johnson had four points and three assists and Marcus Lewis had two points, two rebounds, one assist and two steals.
The Colonels return to action on Saturday when they take on Jacksonville State at 7 p.m.