If it’s possible for a basketball team to need a non-conference win, then the Austin Peay State Governors needed to get one on Saturday.
Coming off back-to-back one-point losses at home, the Govs welcomed former OVC rival Tennessee State into the Dunn Center and didn’t leave it to the final possession, instead beating the Tigers 77-61.
“We needed this,” said forward Cameron Copeland. “The last one-point games hurt us a lot. This feels good to come back out and redeem ourselves.”
The game didn’t start off looking like a blowout for the Governors. Tennessee State led for over seven minutes of the first half, and took a six-point advantage into halftime. They outscored the Govs 24-8 in the paint, making all but two of their first-half shots down low.
Naturally, Nate James’ crew wanted to fix that.
Austin Peay held the Tigers to just 14 points in the paint in the second half and scored 16 of their own. The Tigers shot 34.8% from the field in the latter 20 minutes and were coaxed into eight turnovers in that stretch.
“We’ve got to be physical,” Copeland said. “We weren’t being physical. We were dainty. Good thing we got it together.
“They weren’t ready. They thought we were still going to come out the same way we did.”
Austin Peay sprinted out to a 30-7 run in the second half, eventually winning the period 47-22 to put their opponent away.
The difference was defense, and not by mistake.
“Trying to get our guys to understand that, if we start on the defensive end, it leads to the offensive end,” James said. “Offensively, you can have some plays or some players that are really good so they can maybe take over a game. And when that’s happening, great. But what happens when your offense is not clicking?
“Obviously we do that and we out-rebound them, you go on the offensive end and make connecting plays… We established our big guy. We controlled the paint. Get stops, control the paint and get that inside-outside game. Our chances of winning obviously go up.”
Three different Governors scored in double figures, and all had stretches of dominance. Sean Durugordon scored consistently throughout the afternoon, but his 15 first-half points kept the Govs close. He finished with a game-high 24.
Elijah Hutchins-Everett scored 10 quick points to open the second half before eventually finishing with 19. And Copeland scored 14 in the second half to go with his game-high eight rebounds.
“That’s kind of my role as one of our scorers,” Copeland said. “Coming off the bench, I wanted to bring a spark on defense and on offense.”
Once again, the Govs out-rebounded their foes, this time grabbing 33 boards to the Tigers’ 25.
All of that combined to help them break out of their three-game slump while scoring their most points against a Division I foe this season.
“Coming off any loss, you need a win,” James said. “The way we lost those games to two different teams, obviously we were not at our best and, quite frankly, we didn’t deserve to win. Western, it was totally different. It was a hard-fought game against a very talented team. It’s different types of one-point losses. They take a lot out of you, both mentally and physically.
“We had to control and dictate the game. In the second half, we had to improve and tweak some things. Our guys responded.”
Tennessee State (61): Marcus Fitzgerald Jr. 16, Jr Clay 16, David Acosta 15, Adong Makoui 7, Zool Kueth 3, Justin Williams 2, Zion Griffin 2, Ethan Riggs Abner 2.
Austin Peay (77): Sean Durugordon 24, Elijah Hutchins-Everett 19, Cameron Copeland 16, Jalen Ware 8, Carlos Paez 7, Caleb Stone-Carrawell 3.