The Hawk Outshoots the Eagles
Thursday night Javontae Hawkins was his very best.
Facing one of the Ohio Valley Conference’s best defenses, Eastern Kentucky slashing guard Hawkins buried 6-8 from deep. The slinking wing registered a career high (36 pts).
“He was getting looks and just knocking them down,” said teammate Nick Mayo. “He definitely had a good shooting game. It was one of those games that hopefully carries on to other games.”
His 21-point first half performance stifled a vociferous group of Tennessee State students. After making his second three-pointer in a row, Hawkins yapped to the students.
Their rebuttals lost a little bite after he hit two more three’s. The back-and-forth completed ended after he hit his 5th of the opening half.
“He deserves a lot of credit,” said Tennessee State Head Coach Dana Ford. “He stepped up and made them. They had a great scheme and they executed it.”
EKU did not need Mayo to give 20 points tonight. Still he was steady and supremely difficult to defend.
Mayo’s 21 came from various points on the floor.
The freshman knocked a three-pointer early in the second half. He has made at least one three-pointer in five his last six games. Mayo’s game is expanding and OVC defenses have no obvious solution. His 220-pound frame enables him to hold his position on the low blocks. Mayo posts with purpose and finishes in traffic very well.
“We didn’t do a good job on him at all, especially in the second half,” said Coach Ford. “The reason he didn’t score in the first half was because they had another guy scoring all the points. But he is a load. You really have to have someone as big as him, and maybe as athletic. In our league, he is unguardable from the five position.”
The Final Run
An eleven-point deficit became the new normal for TSU in the second half.
The comeback took on many forms and seemingly lasted a generation. The quintet that ultimately tightened the contest to 81-77 were Marcus Roper, Darreon Reddick, Neville Fincher, and Tahjere McCall. Roper followed a miss with an incredible offensive rebound dunk. He leapt before the ball hit the rim and still retrieved and finished before landing.
At 81-77 Coach Ford substituted three players simultaneously. Keron Deshields, Wayne Martin, and Demontez Loman stepped on the floor.
Reddick, Roper, and KD all misses shots as EKU pulled away once again. A quick 10-2 run by the road team pushed the contest out of reach, 91-79 with 2:19 remaining.
Tennessee State made just one of their final nine field goals. Deshields scored 21 on 6-19 shooting, while Roper shot particularly well (5-10, 4-6 3pters).
Tennessee State (6-3) has lost three of their last four games. For a team that started OVC play 5-0 it is a difficult neighborhood to call home. Morehead State (6-4) is now living next door. TSU is as far away from Belmont as they are from last place Jacksonville State and Eastern Kentucky.
From inside the program the messaging is consistent.
“We have got to play better,” said Head Coach Dana Ford. “We lost at Belmont. We didn’t guard ’em. We lost at Tennessee Tech. We didn’t guard ’em. We lost tonight. We didn’t guard ’em. When we match up well defensively we can win em. We have to find out a way to win when we don’t match up very well against them.”
But, watching Deshields and McCall on the floor it is clear there are some bubbling frustrations. Late in the first half, trailing 47-25, McCall hit a three-pointer, wrestled free a steal, and then made the ensuing layup. As the Tigers broke out after another steal, Deshields took a challenged triple instead of finding McCall.
At that point McCall clearly felt he had the hot hand. His infusion of energy and shooting vaulted TSU into a manageable position, but Deshields took the shot. He was fouled and the end-result was positive. Deshields hit all three free throws, but McCall’s face conveyed something deeper.
He was unable to look at his teammate for the first two free throws. McCall gave the perfunctory low five after the makes, and eventually came around a few seconds later.
McCall didn’t relent. The OVC-steals leader poked another one free, and finished another layup. An EKU guard fumbled the ball while passing to a fellow inbounder. McCall snatched up the loose ball and scored two more. The confusing play brought Tennessee State to 47-35. It was an incredible turnaround in a short period of time.
Beneath the surface the TSU players are dealing with something more.
“I guess they are frustrated because we didn’t play very well today.”