Dajuan Tate, welcome back to the offense.
Mountain State’s 6-foot-5 senior had been silent the last two weeks as far as offensive production was concerned.
Not Tuesday night.
Tate scored 21 points in just 15 minutes as Mountain State rolled to a 129-83 victory over Knoxville at the Raleigh County Armory.
More importantly, he gave the Cougars a lift when they needed it most, though the game’s final score wouldn’t indicate the need.
Going through the motions against a gritty five-man Knoxville squad, led by the grittier Tony Scruggs, MSU found itself down 28-21 with 10:31 remaining in the first half. Enter Tate, who promptly hit a pair of threes and a deuce during a game-turning MSU run.
“Lack of intensity,” Tate said of the game’s first 10 minutes. “We came out and saw they only had five players, we’d beat them twice by over 20 points and you get kind of lackadaisical as a team. We fell in a small, little trap, but we came out of it.”
And then some.
When Tate and crew were done, MSU had gone on a 41-10 tear in the first half’s final 10 minutes to assume a 62-38 lead.
“We can’t control what happens to other programs,” Bolen said. “They beat us the year we got national runner-up. They’ve fallen on hard times and I think our players saw they didn’t have a bench and came out lackadaisical. (Knoxville) had five kids who could play basketball and that showed. We played better after the first 10 minutes.”
After the lopsided run, it was game, set and win No. 24 for the nation’s top-ranked NAIA squad.
Rodney Epperson led a parade of double-digit scorers with 24 points. After Tate’s 21, Hakim Rasul had 19 points and 13 rebounds, Donald Whitfield 15, Mersad Terzic 14 points and 12 rebounds, Maurice Davis 11 points and Tihon Johnson 10. Marc Lewis added nine in seven minutes.
Brian Jackson probably best exemplified the team’s late-season run when he looked at a stat sheet to check his numbers. Not for points, because he missed his only shot attempt of the evening. More importantly, his assists and turnovers, which read 10 and 1.
“Coach told me we have to cut down on turnovers if we want to win (the national championship),” Jackson said. “That’s what I’m trying to do. My goal is 10 assists and no more than one or two turnovers (a game). But none, that would be great.”
The Cougars have been deft at finding the open man during what has been a 10-game win streak.
On their 54 made field goals Tuesday, the Cougars had 35 assists. And, for the sixth straight game, the Cougars shot over 50 percent (54-of-96).
Scruggs, who earned area fans’ respect for his style of play, finished with 30 points in his final Raleigh County Armory appearance.
“It’s a great environment,” Scruggs said. “I have a lot of respect for coach Bolen and the Mountain State program. I enjoyed coming in here and competing. Hopefully, I was able to leave a little bit of the pride we try to have in Knoxville basketball.”
For Tate, he hopes its a sign of things to come.
“I don’t want to speak to soon,” Tate said of his performance Tuesday. “I’m just happy to do what I can do to help the team win.”
MSU will be at Union Saturday, looking for revenge against the only team it has lost to this year.
“We can’t wait 10 minutes before we start playing Saturday,” Bolen cautioned.
— E-mail: demorrison@
Tyrone Stott 6-21 5-6 21, Rod Okoth 5-12 0-0 11, Eric Williams 5-11 0-2 12, Tony Scruggs 9-21 6-6 30, Shaun Brown 4-11 1-3 9. Totals 29-76 12-17 83.
Brian Jackson 0-1 0-0 0, Maurice Davis 5-9 1-1 11, Rodney Epperson 10-20 1-1 24, Hakim Rasul 9-13 1-2 19, Mersad Terzic 4-8 4-4 14, Donald Whitfield 6-11 0-0 15, Tony Fox 0-4 0-0 0, Tihon Johnson 4-6 0-0 10, Dajuan Tate 9-113 0-0 21, Papa Gassama 1-3 0-0 2, Marc Lewis 4-5 0-0 9, Ermin Tarzin 2-3 0-0 4. Totals 54-96 7-8 129.
Halftime—MSU 62-38. 3-Point Goals—Knoxville 13-43 (Stott 4-12, Okoth 1-8, Williams 2-6, Scruggs 6-17). MSU 14-32 (Jackson 0-1, Davis 0-3, Epperson 3-6, Terzic 2-5, Whitfield 3-5, Fox 0-3, Johnson 2-2, Tate 3-6, Lewis 1-1). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—Knoxville 27 (Brown 11), MSU 64 (Rasul 13, Terzic 12). Assists—Knoxville 21 (Scruggs 11), MSU 35 (Jackson 10). Total Fouls—Koxville 9, MSU 10. A—996.
Dajuan Tate, welcome back to the offense.
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