COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – Just two games separate the Tennessee Tech men's basketball team and the Ohio Valley Conference tournament and the Golden Eagles are still fighting for position after clinching a spot in the tourney last week.
Tech will head to Richmond, Ky. for a battle with Eastern Kentucky over a first-round bye in the OVC tournament. At the moment, the Colonels own a one-game lead over the Golden Eagles. But a win would give Tech the season series and a tiebreaker over the EKU should the two finish with the same record.
After the 6:30 p.m. CT bout in Richmond, Tech will wrap up the season at Morehead State.
As for the Colonels, they will take on Tennessee State on Saturday after the contest with Tech. Two wins for either team will clinch a bye in the first round.
Radio: 106.1 The Eagle (Roger Ealey)
Webcast: OVC Digital Network
SETTING THE STAGE
Dating back to 1951, this intra-state match-up has stood the test of time to become one of the longest standing rivalries in the Ohio Valley Conference.
The Colonels own a 70-57 advantage in the series, putting together a team-high nine-game winning streak in the late 70's. EKU also won the first six meetings between the two programs.
Tech answered with the longest game in program history, winning a five-overtime thriller over the Colonels in Cookeville in 1954. The Golden Eagles also own the longest winning streak in the series, collecting 10 straight victories from 1999 through 2003.
After winning four in-a-row in the series, the Golden Eagles saw an end to that streak last season as EKU grabbed both contests for the first time since 2010. Tech rebounded, taking down the Colonels in Cookeville in the most recent match-up, 72-66.
THE LAST TIME THEY MET
Tennessee Tech improved to 9-3 at home this season and kept itself in the thick of the post-season hunt with a 72-66 Ohio Valley Conference basketball victory over Eastern Kentucky Thursday night in Eblen Center. It was Tech's third consecutive victory.
Senior Dennis Ogbe led five Golden Eagles (13-13/6-5 OVC) in double figures with a solid 18 points on 7-for-10 shooting, and grabbed a game-high seven rebounds. Javon McKay added 12 points and three blocked shots, while Dwan Caldwell, Shirmane Thomas and Ladon Carter each scored 10. Caldwell also snared seven rebounds as the Golden Eagles held a 32-26 advantage on the glass.
Senior point guard Jeremiah Samarrippas directed the Tech attack, providing six points and a game-best seven assists while suffering only three turnovers against relentless EKU pressure.
The Colonels (17-9/7-5 OVC) had four players score in double digits, topped by Corey Walden with 17. He topped EKU with five assists. Marcus Lewis netted 14, Glen Cosey scored 13 and Eric Stutz had 10.
The Golden Eagles shot a blistering 55.8 percent (24-for-43) for the game and distributed the ball for 18 assists, with seven different players dishing the rock.
What looked like a Tech runaway in the first eight minutes developed into a real fight-to-the-finish. EKU never held a lead, tying the game at 3-3, but fighting from behind all night long.
The closest EKU got in the second half was two points, at 44-42 early in the second period. The Colonels also pulled within three with just 2:04 to play, 64-61, on a 3-pointer by Cosey.
Tech was able to hold on after Caldwell scored on a layup on a feed from Samarrippas with 1:39 to play for a five-point lead and the Golden Eagles converted 6-of-10 from the line.
The Colonels made it 70-66 with 22 seconds left on free throws from Walden, but DeOndre Haynes made two on the other end with 21 seconds left.
Cosey's 3-point try from in front of the EKU bench was convincingly rejected by Thomas, and Orlando Williams tossed up a 3-point try with nine seconds left that missed.
Tech used crisp passing, excellent ball movement, suffocating defense and a strong post presence to break on top early. The Golden Eagle lead ballooned to 16-5 when Samarrippas buried a 3-pointer from the right corner with 13:50 to play in the opening half.
Tech's early first half dominance continued, as the lead puffed to 21-5 as the 12 minute mark passed. Tech hit 58.3 percent (7-for-12) in the first eight minutes while EKU managed just 16.7 percent (1-for-6).
The Colonels forced five consecutive turnovers by the Golden Eagles and went on an 8-0 run to close the margin to 21-13.
Tech's lead went back into double digits, growing to 14 on a jumper by McKay with 7:31 to play, 27-13, before EKU challenged down the stretch. The Colonels cut the difference down to five points, 32-27, but got no further before the break. Tech held a 38-33 lead at halftime.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Senior Dennis Ogbe leads the Tech squad in scoring, averaging 10.6 point per contest. He also leads the Golden Eagles in rebounds, pulling down 6.0 per game.
Junior Dwan Caldwell has played a key role as the big man in the paint for the Golden Eagles. He is second on the team in scoring, averaging 10.3 points per game while grabbing 5.3 boards per contest. He also blocks 1.0 shots per game.
Point guard Jeremiah Samarrippas is the lead dog in assists for the Golden Eagles, averaging 4.3 per game while also leading the way with 45 steals. He tacks on 9.9 points per game as well. In OVC play, he is shooting 37.5 percent from beyond the arc while leading Tech with 11.9 points and 5.1 assists per game.
Redshirt sophomore Josiah Moore is one of six Golden Eagles averaging at least seven points this season, scoring 7.2 per contest. He went off for a career-high 22 points in the upset victory over Belmont and as well as adding a career-best eight rebounds.
Ladon Carter provides great depth off the bench for Tech, ranking second in the OVC in field goal percentage with a .652 mark while scoring 7.4 points per game and pulling down 4.9 rebounds.
JUCO transfer Jordan Johnson has started all but one conference game this season, shooting 36.7 percent from 3-point range and averaging 6.5 points.