Austin Peay needed a big second half from Tariq Silver to give Nate James his first win as Governors’ head coach.
Silver scored 16 points in the final 15 minutes and finished with 20 on the night. The Govs (1-0) led by just four at the break to NAIA’s UT Southern but pulled it out for an 86-79 victory.
“It was a team effort,” Silver said. “Games like this, dogfights … they shot 50% from the field, so we need everybody at that point. I definitely think we just have to be ready for the next one.
“Every great team has their battles; every great team has their tests. We just happened to have ours the first game of the year.”
The Governors scored the first seven points of the night, and UT Southern responded with a 9-0 run of its own in the first half. Kavion Hancock and Adarion Hudson gave the Firehawks an early lead in the second, but it was 11 unanswered points from Silver that kept the opposition at bay.
“We have to understand that every game is going to be hard fought,” James said. “In today’s modern era of college basketball, there’s no such thing to me as NAIA, Division II and all that. Everyone can play, especially now.”
They outscored the Firehawks 46-43 in the second half to come away with the win. UT Southern shot 54% from the field and 56% from three.
“They hit some tough shots,” Silver said. “We definitely have to tighten up defensively. It’s hard to beat a team when they shoot 50% … that’s not a recipe to win games. We pride ourselves on our defense and we just didn’t show it tonight.”
Silver led the Governors on offense with a 6-of-7 shooting performance. Cameron Copeland, Elijah Hutchins-Everett and Carlos Paez all scored in double figures.
The win was the first for former Duke assistant Nate James, who learned from coach and mentor Mike Krzyzewski to always celebrate a victory; he returned from his team’s locker room with a drenched shirt and suit jacket.
“During the game, I’m going to be intense,” James said. “This counts, and I think they have to learn that – just like life – sometimes you need to yell a little bit. Sometimes you need to show a little passion, and that’s who I am.
“It always feels good to win. Every win feels outstanding, and they will be hard to come by. … When you win, it is a celebration. We learn from mistakes, but we also celebrate the wins. This was my first, and I’m very excited that it ended the right way.”