RICHMOND — Eastern Kentucky had just lost all of a 17-point lead with 27 seconds left, and the outcome was very much in doubt Saturday in McBrayer Arena.
Tennessee State's Marcus Roper, who led all scorers with 32 points, had just made a three-pointer to tie it up at 72, and EKU's Corey Walden answered with two foul shots with 23.6 seconds left.
That's when Eastern Kentucky Coach Jeff Neubauer inserted Tommy Matthews, sparking the Colonels to the 77-72 victory.
TSU tried to take the lead by dialing up another Roper trey. Matthews blocked the shot, and Tigers Coach Dana Ford charged onto the floor when no foul was called, drawing a technical foul with 13.3 seconds left.
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Walden converted both technical free throws, and Isaac McGlone hit one of two free throws for the final points.
Neubauer had confidence in Matthews to put him in the game for the big block.
"The fact that I trust him enough to put him in the game with 22 seconds left — we called a timeout after a made free throw to get him in and talk about how we were going to guard," Neubauer said. "To me, the two biggest plays of the game — we hadn't taken a charge for the first 35 minutes of the game. And we talked about it in a timeout, and right after that Tommy took a charge, and then Isaac took a huge charge."
What was most important to Neubauer was the Colonels found a way to come back and win.
"I told my guys in the locker room that the greatest skill you can have in life, not just basketball but in life, is just knowing how to win," Neubauer said. "So we did enough here to win."
Combined with Morehead State's victory over Belmont, the Colonels (14-9, 6-4 Ohio Valley Conference) pulled to within a half-game of first place in the OVC East, behind Morehead and Belmont.
"Timmy Knipp really got us off to a great start in the first half. He was shooting the basketball as well as anybody in the country," Neubauer said. "Corey Walden was really solid tonight, just did a lot of good things. He made a lot of good passes that he didn't get rewarded for, so Corey only ended up with five assists, but he threw a dozen great passes.
"Tennessee State did a good job competing in the second half and really making it a basketball game. But our team did enough to win."
Knipp, 6-for-8 from three-point range and 5-for-7 at the foul line, led EKU with a career-high 23 points. Walden added 22 points, four rebounds and four steals. Eric Stutz had 16 points and four boards.
"The last two or three weeks I've been shooting the ball really well," said Knipp, a 6-foot-7 senior. "I've got teammates that can find me open looks every night, so I'm thankful for that."
Roper's 32-point outburst included a 7-of-13 effort from the three-point line. TSU also outrebounded the Colonels 31-19, including a 10-3 gap on the offensive end.
"We gave up a lot of offensive rebounds," Walden said. "But our defense as a whole was a problem. We didn't really do a good job of finding the hot hand and cooling him down."
Knipp nailed his first four three-point attempts, helping the Colonels to a 42-25 lead late in the first half.
Tennessee State (5-20, 2-8) scored the last five points of the half to trail 42-30, then scored six straight to open the second half and make it a 42-36 contest.
The Tigers, winless in 13 road games, used an 8-0 flurry to pull to within 70-69 with 1:35 left. Stutz, assisted by McGlone, shook free for a layup with 1:03 left.
Tennessee State tied the game at 72 and then the fireworks started.