COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – In the world of sports, not much is sweeter than achieving perfection. Whether it be a perfect game, a perfect night of shooting, or capping an undefeated season, perfection outweighs everything save a championship. The Tennessee Tech men's basketball team will look for its own level of perfection against the Belmont Bruins.
The Broadcasts Television - WCTE TV Radio: Fox Sports Radio, 106.1 The Eagle (Roger Ealey) Webcast: Live on the OVC Digital Network
Setting the Stage
With the addition of Belmont to the Ohio Valley Conference this year, an old in-state rivalry has been given new life as the Golden Eagles and Bruins will face off for the first time since 1998-99. Belmont will join Tech in the newly formed East Division of the OVC, following 11 dominating season in the Atlantic Sun Conference that included five regular season and five tournament championships and five NCAA Tournament appearances.
Tech will hope history repeats itself as the Golden Eagles have never lost to Belmont, boasting an impressive 11-0 series lead. These aren't the Bruins of old, however, as the team boasts a 257-162 record since these two squads last met. That includes a scorching 153-55 (an incredible .736 winning percentage) record in the Atlantic Sun Conference, which the team joined in 2001-02 and left after last season.
@ Nashville, Tenn.
@ Nashville, Tenn.
This series first began in 1956-57 and has been primarily hosted in Cookeville, with only two of the 11 meetings occuring in Nashville.
Several former Tech records were set in that season, including the school mark for points in a game (108 against Belmont), field goals made in a game (46 against Belmont), and the all-time career scoring record of that time (1,132 by Kenny Sidwell). The Golden Eagles have dominated the series for the most part, winning seven of the 11 by double-digits.
While the in-state foes haven't met in over a decade, many still remember the 1998-99 thriller that Tech pulled off in the Eblen Center in Belmont's first game as an NCAA Division I program, following their jump from the NAIA level.
Former Golden Eagle forward Reggie Nelson posted a double-double in the 63-62 nail-biter, scoring a game-high 17 points and pulling down 15 rebounds in an impressive 38 minutes of action. Josh Heard, a guard for Tech at the time, scored 16 points to back up Nelson and help Tech pull out the win.
Belmont did manage to put four players in double-digits in the scoring column in the contest, however it would prove to be futile as former Tech player Ricardo Woodfine made a buzzer-beating shot to carry the Golden Eagles to the victory.
The game was the first for Tech head coach Jeff Lebo, who, in four seasons, led the Golden Eagles to 75 wins and two Ohio Valley Conference Championships.
Fans looking for another easy win over Belmont will have to keep looking, as the Bruins have quickly become one of the top mid-major college basketball teams in the nation. With seven 20-win seasons in the last nine years, Belmont has garnered national attention behind the historic coaching efforts of Rick Byrd.
For those who think that name rings familiar, they'd be right. Besides owning over 600 career victories in 32 years of coaching, Byrd may also be remembered for a three-year stint as an assistant coach at Tennessee Tech. Serving under Tom Deaton from 1980-83, Byrd was a cog in the staff that built the 1984-85 OVC Championship team.
Belmont has achieved much success since Byrd's arrival, including a hot 10-4 start this season, despite owning one of the toughest schedules in the country. The Bruins will be just 48 hours removed from their first OVC win in school history when they come to Cookeville, defeating the Jacksonville State Gamecocks 73-62 Thursday evening.
The Belmont squad, which has received votes for the AP Top 25 poll on numerous occasions this season, boast two of the OVC's best in senior guards Ian Clark and Kerron Johnson. Clark is one of four Bruins averaging double-digits in the scoring department, posting 17.0 points per game, tied for fourth in the OVC.
Johnson adds 13.6 points per contest and ranks third in the conference with 4.9 assists per outing. Also posting strong scoring efforts are forwards Trevor Noack and Blake Jenkins. Another senior, Noack puts up 12.4 points while also tying for the team lead in rebounds with 5.8 per game. Jenkins, a redshirt-junior, also pulls down 5.8 boards per contest, while rounding out the double-digit scorers with 10.1 per contest.
The Bruins boast a tough offense, ranking second in the OVC with 73.4 points per game. On the flip side, they also rank second in scoring defense, allowing just 62.6 points per contest. The team's +10.8 scoring margin is tops in the OVC by over a point.
Belmont also ranks second in the OVC in free throw percentage (72.7%), field goal percentage defense (38.8%), and steals (8.9). They rank third in field goal percentage (46.7%), 3-point field goal percentage (37.1%), assists (14.8), assist/turnover ratio (1.1), defensive rebounds (24.6) and 3-point field goals made (8.8).
Despite what seems overwhelming on paper, the Golden Eagles know they can compete with the Bruins. The team will look to senior guard Jud Dillard to continue his career-year and lead Tech to another home victory. Dillard ranks second in the OVC in scoring pouring in 18.0 points per contest while also grabbing 7.2 rebounds per game to rank sixth in the conference.
A transfer from Southern Methodist, junior guard Jeremiah Samarrippas is coming off a career performance aginst Tennessee State. The Bartow, Fla. native led Tech with a career-high 22 points in 37 minutes of actionon eight-of-14 shooting. He added two rebounds, two steals, and three assists while making no turnovers.
Dennis Ogbe, a junior forward who hails from Munich, Germany, will look to once again be a force in the paint after grabbing a career-best 13 rebounds in the contest, including five on the offensive glass. Redshirt freshman guard Lanerryl Johnson posted his second 20-point performance of the season against the Tigers, scoring 21 for the Golden Eagles. Both 20-point outbursts have occurred at the Eblen Center.
Fans can tune in to 106.1 The Eagle to listen to live coverage of Tech's contest against the Bruins on Saturday. Radio coverage will begin 15 minutes prior to the 7:30 p.m. CST tip-off time. Fans can also view the live game feed on the OVC Digital Network, the Ohio Valley Conference's live webstream for free here.
Individual game tickets, as well as TTU season tickets, are on sale at the Athletics Ticket Office in Eblen Center or by calling (931) 372-3940.
To read more about the upcoming game and Tennessee Tech basketball, take a look at the game notes for the match-up against Belmont here.