A Burst of Chaney Invigorates Tennessee State
A mercurial Tennessee State(11-5, 2-1) unit sent UT Martin back home 0-Nashville. TSU won 76-65.
The Nashville swing ain’t what it used to be, now that Head Coach Dana Ford has TSU defending at a championship level.
The victory was hardly routine, as UT Martin (11-8, 1-3) stomped on the Tigers’ tail early. Vitalized by active defense the Skyhawks galloped out to a 21-9 lead.
“We were just dialed in,” said UT Martin Head Coach Anthony Stewart. “We were communicating. We were energetic. Our arms were up. Guys were sliding. They were taking charges.”
They didn’t keep it up.
TSU point guard Armani Chaney made an important difference in the game. He pushed the lethargic Tigers up the floor, and twice set up teammates . If A’Torey Everett converted a six-foot baseline floater to beat the halftime buzzer, Chaney would have added another assist.
“I was just trying to be very aggressive for the team,” said Chaney. “I was trying to get everybody involved.”
Chaney brought an infusion of speed and quick thinking to a stagnating offense.
“When he comes in it brings a different pace,” said Tahjere McCall. “He is good in traffic, getting in cracks.”
Late in the first half fans saw a slick stretch from McCall. First he fed a tip-pass to Jordan Reed. Two possessions later he slashed into the paint with a crafty sidestep. When McCall is scoring the Tigers are a top-tier OVC club. Without him they look strained in the halfcourt.
Chaney missed his first two outside shots, but his third attempt gave Tennessee State a necessary 7-0 run. The sizable hole was almost completely filled in and manageable.
“Our energy died down,” said UT Martin Coach Stewart. “We should have gone in with a bigger lead before halftime.”
Chaney’s triple cut it to 30-26 late in the first.
“I thought he was absolutely awesome and that is why he started the second half,” said Head Coach Dana Ford. “He struggled a little bit this year with his shot. He made a big shot for us late in the half.”
Chaney can blitz right by tired legs, and coming off the bench gives him an opportunity to instantly attack. His speed and vision are unique among the Tigers.
“He is a really good player,” said Coach Ford. “He puts a lot of pressure on himself. We love him to death. He really makes us a better team.”
I knew they would regroup, gameplan, and scheme. They did. Their defensive intensity picked up and we didn’t respond like we should have in the second half.”
UT Martin guard Jacolby Mobley again battled a finicky right ankle. He missed five games with the injury earlier in the year.
At one point, as he sat on the court aching, Mobley shouted, “Coach, I’m through.”
The frustration of sitting, healing, coming back, injuring it again just drained his spirit.
But he returned a minute later.
“He is not quite 100%,” said Coach Stewart. “He is a senior. He is a warrior. He is a competitor and he is giving everything he has.”
For TSU Christian Mekowulu again impressed with his enhanced mobility. Like a sprite, the big man recovered to block a jumper. When Wayne Martin was unable to corral the ball UT Martin can back instantly. Mekowulu leaned aggressively, nearly toppling over to deflect the incisive pass. A block, a save, and a steal in a matter of seconds. Weeks ago Mekowulu could not have executed such an athletic series of plays.
“He was awesome tonight,” said Head Coach Ford. “It was a total team effort. His game was the epitome of that. I don’t think he scored a basket, but he defended. He rebounded. He rebounded out of his area. He rebounded above the rim. He came up with loose balls, deflected balls, defended ball screens really well.”
Coach Ford was pleased that Mekowulu kept grinding despite not starting the second half.
Jordan Reed’s defensive lapses are starting to become a tradition. The powerful guard loses track of his man at least twice a game. Most of the time the open man hits a three-pointer as he helplessly recognizes the lapse.
McCall was the soul of the team. Again.
“His number one role is leadership,” said Head Coach Ford. “If he is not going to lead us, then we are not going anywhere.”
Tahj pulled down two offensive rebounds in the same possession. Possibly because he missed a bunny, McCall yanked down two offensive rebounds on the successive possession too.
Delano Spencer dropped consecutive three-pointers midway through the second half. The perfect super sub showing, Spencer fought through a first-half benching and collected his emotions.
“That is why we brought him here to make some shots,” said Coach Ford. “Last year we had a guy named Marcus Roper, whose job it was to make shots. This year that is supposed to be Delano Spencer.”
Spencer missed a game with an injury, and is still acclimating to the offense, but found his spots Saturday night.
Spencer gave a third three to the cause to beat the shot clock with 3:58 left in the game. It opened up an 11-point lead for TSU.
“This is his third or fourth game in which he has made five three’s,” said Coach Ford. “He makes us a better team. Now you are talking about a guy that can get us 12-13 points off the bench.”
Four TSU players scored double figures in the second half alone (McCall, Spencer, Darreon Reddick, Wayne Martin).
Tennessee State captured back-t0-back wins for the first time since Thanksgiving. UT Martin dropped their fifth game in seven outings. They host Southeast Missouri next Saturday.