COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – In what seems like ages and ages, the Tennessee Tech men's basketball time will finally head back to the Eblen Center to defend its home floor, hosting Eastern Illinois Thursday evening in the Golden Eagle's Ohio Valley Conference home-opener.
The 7 p.m. CT contest will pit Tech against an Eastern Illinois squad that hasn't seen the road since Dec. 21, having hosted each of its first three OVC games to start league play. The Panthers sit at 1-2 over that span, losing both home contests against Eastern Kentucky and Morehead State last weekend.
The Golden Eagles are coming off a quietly successful weekend, grabbing a tough, four-point win at Tennessee State last Thursday and narrowly losing to defending OVC Champion Belmont at home, being edged by two points in the closing seconds of the contest.
Radio: 106.1 The Eagle (Roger Ealey)
Webcast: Golden Eagle Sports Network on the OVC Digital Network (Dylan Vazzano)
SETTING THE STAGE The Golden Eagles have owned the series against the Panthers of late, winning eight of the past 11 contests between these two OVC foes. Tech has also won four of the past five meetings, including last year's game in Charleston, Ill.
Tech has dominated the series when at home, posting a decisive 13-5 record when hosting Eastern Illinois in Cookeville. The Golden Eagles also hold the advantage on the road, going 9-7 when playing in Charleston. The Panthers defeated Tech in the series' only neutral-site contest, the first meeting between these two programs back in 1981.
THE LAST TIME THEY MET Mitchell Hill provided a timely spark as the Tennessee Tech men's basketball team earned its first Ohio Valley Conference victory of the 2012-13 season Thursday night, taking down the Eastern Illinois Panthers, 77-73 behind career nights from Hill, Jeremiah Samarrippas, and Jud Dillard.
The Golden Eagles erased a first-half, 15-point deficit on their way to their first victory of 2013 and their first league win. They snapped a five-game skid with an impressive shooting performance, hitting 52 percent of their shots from the field. Even more impressive was the team's eagle-eye precision from behind the arc as the team sank 12 3-pointers on its way to a 54.4 percent mark from downtown.
The team trailed the entire contest up until the final 1:10 when they tied the game for the first time. They didn't take the lead for good until there were just two seconds to play.
A local Cookeville product, Hill nailed a career-best three 3-pointers in the contest on his way to a nine-point performance. He also nabbed a career-high three rebounds. Perhaps most impressive, however, was his defensive performance and contribution to the game outside the stat books. Playing 29 minutes, a career-high mark by nearly 10 minutes, Hill provided a defensive spark, grabbing two key rebounds followed quickly by fouls on the opposition. Both fouls were a testament to his determination in getting to the ball.
The sophomore guard heckled the Panther perimeter players all night, preventing them from getting easy three-point buckets and forcing them to dribble around more often than they were comfortable with.
Also performing above and beyond the call of duty was junior guard Jeremiah Samarrippas. A transfer from Southern Methodist, Samarrippas played his most complete game as a Golden Eagle to date. He performed splendidly defensively, recording two steals and also blocking his first career shot. The Bartow, Fla., native finished the game with two blocks, two rebounds, and seven points.
His most impressive numbers came on the offensive end of the floor. Number two dished out eight assists, a career-mark at Tennessee Tech and the most since Feb. 25, 2012 when he had nine dimes as a member of the SMU squad. His best contribution, however, would be a giant goose egg. The point guard had a mind-blowing zero turnovers on the night.
Not to be outdone, senior guard Jud Dillard put the Golden Eagles on his back in the second half in route to tying a career-best mark of 34 points. A native of Atlanta, Ga., Dillard scored 12 first half points, but clearly wasn't satisfied as Tech trailed by four going into halftime.
Dillard erupted in the second half, scoring 22 points, including a mindless 19 of the team's final 26 points. He scored 11 straight from the 3:23 mark to the final two seconds when he hit a layup to put the Golden Eagles ahead for good. The senior's 3-pointer with 51 seconds left on the clock gave Tech its first lead of the game, 73-71. He also grabbed a team-high five rebounds in the contest.
A junior hailing from Munich, Germany, Dennis Ogbe recorded his seventh game of the season scoring in double figures. His 11 points came from a career-day from 3-point range, as he drained three-of-three from behind the arc. The forward also finished the day perfect from the charity stripe, sinking both attempts.
Matt Marseille, a junior forward from Brooklyn, N.Y., came up huge down the stretch, hitting two free throws with three tenths of a second left on the clock to ice the game. He finished the contest with nine points while going six-for-six from the free throw line.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR Ty Allen has led the Golden Eagles in scoring all season long and currently averages 10.3 points per game. Right behind him, senior Dennis Ogbe is posting 10.2 points while also leading Tech in rebounding with 6.6 boards per game.
Junior Dwan Caldwell has played a key role as the big man in the paint for the Golden Eagles. He is averaging 9.5 points per game while grabbing 5.4 boards per contest. He also blocks 1.1 shots per game.
Point guard Jeremiah Samarrippas is the lead dog in assists for the Golden Eagles, averaging just under four per game while also leading the way with 30 steals. He also tacks on 8.4 points per game.
Ladon Carter provides great depth off the bench for Tech, ranking second in the OVC in field goal percentage with a .659 mark while scoring 7.8 points per game and pulling down 5.1 rebounds.
Redshirt sophomore Josiah Moore put together a fantastic effort at Tennessee State, leading the Golden Eagles with 13 points on 5-of-7 shooting. He added six at Belmont and is now averaging 7.3 points per game. His .351 mark from the 3-point line ranks him second on the Tech squad and first among players with at least 20 attempts.