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September 22, 2011

Games at Miami, West Virginia, Las Vegas Classic highlight 2011-12 slate

Quest for OVC title begins Dec. 29

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COOKEVILLE, Tenn. — Games against squads from the ACC, Big East and Atlantic 10 as well as a trip to the iBN Sports Las Vegas Classic highlight Tennessee Tech’s 2011-12 non-conference men’s basketball schedule.

In addition to a 16-game Ohio Valley Conference slate, the Golden Eagles play 14 out-of-league games, a list that includes the season-opener at Miami (Fla.) on Nov. 11, as well as trips to West Virginia and Duquesne.

In all, Tech will play 14 home games and as many as 11 games against teams which participated in postseason play a season ago.

“I like our schedule,” first-year head coach Steve Payne said. “I think it’s very challenging. We play three games against teams from top-level conferences, we’ve got our traditional regional games, and the Las Vegas Classic will be a great pre-Christmas trip where we will get to play in a tournament-like setting on a neutral floor.”

The Golden Eagles ended the 2010-11 season with a bang, advancing all the way to the OVC championship game, knocking off regular-season champion Murray State on the way, and playing in the CIT postseason tournament.

With four starters from that squad returning, one of the most anticipated seasons in some time begins when the Golden Eagles take the floor at Miami on Nov. 11.

Like Tech, the Hurricanes debut a first-year head coach in Jim Larranaga, formerly of George Mason. Miami finished 21-15 in 2010-11 and advanced to the NIT quarterfinals.

“Anytime you play an ACC team, it’s a real challenge,” Payne said. “We’ve played there before (in 2004-05) and had chances to win late in the second half and didn’t pull it off. It’s a good chance for Zach Bailey to go back home and play in front of all his friends and family.

“Miami has some returning all-conference players in the ACC (senior guard Malcolm Grant and junior center Reggie Johnson), so they have some of the best players in the country, and it will be a challenge.”

The Golden Eagles play back-to-back home games after facing Miami, welcoming Reinhardt and Appalachian State into the Eblen Center on Nov. 15 and 19.

Located in Waleska, Ga., Reinhardt is an NAIA member. Appalachian State visits Cookeville in a return game from the 2009-10 BracketBuster contest.

Tech then travels to High Point on Nov. 22 in an attempt to avenge an 80-69 loss at the Eblen Center last year.

After returning from High Point, the Golden Eagles again enjoy back-to-back home contests on Nov. 25 and Nov. 27 against Lamar, a new addition to the schedule out of the Southland Conference coached by Pat Knight, and Wilberforce, an NAIA squad hailing from Ohio.

A Dec. 3 date at Duquesne marks Tech’s second matchup against a high-major conference opponent. The Dukes finished 19-13 and 10-6 in the Atlantic 10 in 2010-11 and played in the postseason CBI Tournament, where they advanced to the quarterfinals.

Consecutive home games again welcome the Golden Eagles as they square off against regional rivals East Tennessee State on Dec. 7 and Lipscomb on Dec. 10. ETSU went 24-12 and 16-4 in the Atlantic Sun a season ago and advanced to the CIT Tournament semifinals.

The Golden Eagles then embark on a stretch of six consecutive games away from home, beginning with a trip to Evansville on Dec. 17. The Purple Aces finished 16-16 in 2010-11 and advanced to the CBI Tournament quarterfinals.

“The traditional rivalry games against Evansville, East Tennessee State and Lipscomb, those are games we would like to continue to play,” said Payne. “We want to play regionally and play home-and-home as much as we can. It’s sometimes difficult for us to schedule home games, especially when people think we are going to be good, and these series are good for everyone involved.”

After facing Evansville, the Golden Eagles then begin play in the iBN Sports Las Vegas Classic which begins with first-round play at home sites. Tech will travel to West Virginia for their first-ever meeting with the Mountaineers on Dec. 19.

Coached by Bob Huggins, West Virginia went 21-12 in 2010-11 and advanced to the Sweet 16, where it fell to Kentucky.

Tournament play then shifts to Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, where Tech will face Kennesaw State on Dec. 22 and either Bethune-Cookman or Texas A&M-Corpus Christi on Dec. 23. Bethune-Cookman finished 21-13 in 2010-11 and played in the NIT.

The rest of the field includes Missouri State, Baylor and St. Mary’s.

“I think you need to play in a tournament-type atmosphere,” Payne said. “It’s never going to be as intense and keyed-up as the OVC Tournament will be, but it’s an opportunity to play back-to-back with short scout time, short prep time and short recovery time. Those things will help us prepare for a tournament run, and basketball is a tournament sport.”

After Christmas, the 16-game OVC schedule begins with a two-game road swing at SIU Edwardsville on Dec. 29 and Tennessee-Martin on Dec. 31.

With the addition of SIU Edwardsville as a full league member this season, the OVC schedule drops from 18 games to 16. Instead of playing each team in the conference twice, Tech will instead play home-and-home series with six teams while facing four squads — Eastern Illinois, Southeast Missouri, at Austin Peay and at UT Martin — just once.

“Anytime you have an unbalanced schedule, somebody is going to get the short straw,” Payne said. “That being said, I think 16 games is the right amount of games for us to play. I do think it’s a disadvantage for us to play at Austin Peay and not have them play here.”

The 2012 portion of the schedule begins with Tennessee State and defending OVC tournament champion Morehead State visiting Eblen Center on Jan. 5 and 7. Both squads finished with winning league records a season ago, while Morehead advanced to the NCAA Tournament round of 32, beating Louisville in the first round.

On Jan. 14, the Golden Eagles travel to defending regular-season champion Murray State, which played in the NIT a season ago, before returning home to host Jacksonville State and Southeast Missouri on Jan. 19 and 21.

The road swing known around the OVC as the “Death Valley” trip is next up for Tech as they travel to Eastern Kentucky on Jan. 26 and Morehead State on Jan. 28 before returning home to host SIU Edwardsville on Jan. 30.

The month of February begins with games at Austin Peay, a 2010-11 CBI Tournament participant, on Feb. 2, and Jacksonville State on Feb. 4. Tech then hosts Eastern Illinois on Feb. 9 before hitting the road again to face Tennessee State on Feb. 11, then coming back home to host Eastern Kentucky on Feb. 15.

The Golden Eagles are scheduled to play on the road in this year’s Sears BracketBuster event on Feb. 18 against a team to be announced. Tech hosted Gardner-Webb in last year’s game.

Murray State then visits Cookeville on Feb. 25 for the regular-season finale in a game that could loom large if the league’s regular-season finishing order is still up in the air.

The OVC Tournament begins on Feb. 29 at Municipal Auditorium in Nashville, Tenn., with the same format as last season. The fifth-through-eighth seeds will play on Feb. 29, with winners advancing to face the first-through-fourth seeds on March 1. Semifinals will be played March 2 with the champion being crowned on March 3.

Season tickets for the 2011-12 Golden Eagle basketball season are on sale at the Athletics Ticket Office in Eblen Center, or by calling (931) 372-3940. Tickets may also be ordered online at TTUsports.com.