By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information Coordinator
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – It's tournament time for the Tennessee Tech men's basketball team as the fifth seeded Golden Eagles prepare for their first round match-up against No. 8 SIUE in the Ohio Valley Conference tournament in Nashville.
With a 6 p.m. CT start, the Tech game marks the first of the men's tournament, kicking off four days of OVC action. The contest will be streamed live on the OVC Digital Network and Golden Eagle fans can also follow the fun on 106.1 The Eagle as Roger Ealey of the Golden Eagle Sports Network will provide the call all week long.
The Tech squad enters this massive battle with momentum on its side, having won its previous contest at Morehead State, four of its last five and six of its last eight. The Golden Eagles put 91 points on the Eagles on their home floor, torching one of the league's best defenses behind a career night from center Dwan Caldwell, who led all scorers with 29 points.
SIUE clinched its first tournament berth as a member of the OVC, but has stumbled as of late, dropping each of its last three contests and four of its past five. The Cougars fell in a heartbreaker on Saturday, losing 78-74 to rival Eastern Illinois on their home court.
No. 5 Tennessee Tech (16-15, 9-7) vs. No. 8 SIUE (11-19, 7-9)
Wednesday, Mar. 5, 2014
6 p.m. CT
Municipal Auditorium (7,500) – Nashville, Tenn.
Radio: 106.1 The Eagle (Roger Ealey)
Webcast: OVC Digital Network
SETTING THE STAGE
The shortest series for Tech against Ohio Valley Conference opponents, playing SIUE has been an up-and-down affair as the Golden Eagles own a slim one-game advantage over the Cougars.
With the first meeting between the two programs coming back in 2010, this will mark just the seventh match-up all-time between Tech and SIUE, and the first in the OVC Tournament. The Golden Eagles have claimed all three contests in Cookeville, winning by an average of 10.7 points per game.
This year's meeting in Cookeville marked the closest contest between the OVC foes, with Tech edging SIUE by a single point, holding off a late surge by the Cougars.
THE LAST TIME THEY MET
For all the things Dennis Ogbe did for the Golden Eagles against SIUE, his gutsy effort to defend the basket on a layup try with 2.4 seconds left may have been his biggest contribution of the game.
Ogbe, who suffered a deep cut on his forehead in the first half and was playing with a headband-style bandage around his skull, led the Golden Eagles with 16 points in their thrilling, 64-63 victory over SIU Edwardsville in OVC action in Eblen Center.
With Tennessee Tech clinging to a one-point lead following a massive second half SIUE comeback, the Golden Eagles missed a chance for a cushion when freshman Shirmane Thomas missed both free throws with 10 seconds to play.
Maurice Wiltz grabbed the rebound and fed it to Donivine Stewart, who drove to the basket for the game-winner.
But Ogbe was already there, floating at the rim, and diverted Stewart's layup attempt. Ray Lester tried to tip the rebound back just an instant before the buzzer sounded, but that also missed the mark as Golden Eagle defenders stormed the rim.
Tennessee Tech (10-9/3-1 OVC) was able to withstand the second-half effort by SIU Edwardsville (4-12/1-2 OVC), after the Cougars erased what had ballooned to a 21-point TTU lead early in the second period.
The only time SIUE led in the game came on a 3-pointer by Kris Davis in the first two minutes that put the Cougars up, 3-2. After that, the Golden Eagles built a double-digit margin and led by 10 at the break, 32-22.
Tech opened the second half with a 15-4 run that took the lead to 47-26, just four minutes into the stanza.
Keaton Jackson scored all 11 of his points in the second half and Davis notched 10 in the second period, and the Cougars chipped away, finally getting the margin down to single digits with 4:41 remaining.
A layup by Jordan Johnson with 4:45 remaining was the final basket of the game for the Golden Eagles, putting Tech on top 63-53.
The visitors continued to surge, and with 1:08 left made it a 63-61 Tech lead on a dunk by Jackson.
Johnson made a steal with 31 seconds left and converted one free throw for a 64-61 lead, the single point proving to be the game-winner.
Stewart scored a layup with 20 seconds left, which led to Thomas' two free throw tries with 10 seconds to play.
Point guard Jeremiah Samarrippas (on photo above) had 11 points, five assists and two steals, Ladon Carter chipped in with eight points and nine rebounds, and Josiah Moore added seven points and five rebounds.
Davis topped SIUE with 17 points and also grabbed a team-high eight rebounds.
The rivalry between the two schools is relatively young, with Saturday's game being just the sixth meeting. Tech leads 4-2, including a perfect 3-0 record in Eblen Center.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Senior Dennis Ogbe leads the Tech squad in scoring, averaging 10.8 point per contest. He also leads the Golden Eagles in rebounds, pulling down 5.9 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 10.7 points per game while grabbing 5.4 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 4.6 per game while also leading the way with 45 steals. He tacks on 10.3 points per game as well. In OVC play, he is shooting 38.4 percent from beyond the arc while leading Tech with 12.4 points and 5.4 assists per game.
Redshirt sophomore Josiah Moore is one of six Golden Eagles averaging at least seven points this season, scoring 7.3 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 third in the OVC in field goal percentage with a .649 mark while scoring 7.0 points per game and pulling down 4.6 rebounds.
JUCO transfer Jordan Johnson has started all but one conference game this season, shooting 38.0 percent from 3-point range and averaging 6.9 points.