By Jonathan Stark
The streak of 14 consecutive wins against TSU (8-11, 5-5 OVC) is over as the Tigers’ big three nearly outscored Eastern in a 104-85 beating.Three of TSU’s starters, Kendra Appling, Tiffany Jackson and Obiageli Okafor combined for a total of 84 points last Thursday at the Gentry Center. Appling led with 39 points and six rebounds, while Okafor had 18 points and a team-high nine rebounds. Jackson finished with 26 points.
“She (Appling) shoots great jump shots, shoots a three (and) will take you off the dribble. Probably one of the better athletes in our conference,” Eastern head coach Larry Joe Inman said early last week.
The game was closely contested throughout the first half. Neither team could build a substantial lead until Tennessee State hit back-to-back three’s, with less than two minutes to go in the first, to make the lead eight. The Tigers carried a seven-point lead into half time.
Eastern knew going in that playing at Tennessee State would not be any easy task.
“At their place (the Gentry Center) they press you, they’re in your face, they’re relentless,” Inman said.
In the first half TSU shot 60 percent, and out-rebounded the Colonels 18-13 including nine offensive rebounds.
The second half opened up with a 10-0 run by Tennessee State to build a 15-point lead. Eastern was able to cut the lead to single digits thanks to a run of their own in which Ashley Cazee scored five points. Cazee would finish with 21 points, eight assists and four steals.
A pair of Tennessee State free throws ended the run and pushed the lead back to double digits. The lead would only get larger as Eastern could not close the gap.
The Tigers largest lead came with just over three minutes remaining as a layup made it a 27-point game at 98-71.
“State is a very capable team, they’re very athletic,” Inman said before the game. “A creative team like Tennessee State likes to create off the dribble and just goes to the board with a vengeance. They’ve got good quickness, and they run the ball well.”
Eastern managed to outscore TSU 14-6 in the final three minutes but it wasn’t enough as the Colonels fell 104-85.
Tennessee State out rebounded EKU 35-22 with 17 offensive rebounds. TSU also held the turnover advantage 20-25.
Throughout the season the Tigers have been the worst free-throw shooting team in the conference at 59.1 percent. On Thursday they shot 77.1 percent (27-35).
“This is where teams really separate themselves. And you’ll see probably in the next two to three weeks a lot of upsets because teams are not focused and they’re losing some of that incentive or that drive,” Inman predicted before the game.
This was the first time since the 1999-2000 season that the Eastern’s women’s team has given up 100 or more points. The last time was against Eastern Illinois when they lost 102-95 in overtime.
“I think we’re coming together and I think maybe, I hope, our best basketball is still in front of us,” Inman said. “I’m sure there’ll be obstacles and mountains for us to climb to get there.”
The Colonels are now 10-7 and 5-5 in the OVC. On Saturday they return to Tennessee to take on Tennessee Tech at 4 p.m. Eastern beat TTU 74-62 earlier this month. Crystal Jones led the Colonels with 25 points and nine rebounds.
The Golden Eagles are 3-18, 2-9 in the OVC.