By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Tech men's basketball concludes its week-long and two-game road stretch Friday evening, making a visit to Athens, Ohio for the first time in program history for a 6 p.m. CT match-up with Ohio.
Tennessee Tech (1-4) at Ohio (3-0)
Friday, Nov. 25, 2016
6:00 p.m. CT
Convocation Center – Athens, Ohio
Radio: 106.1 The Eagle (Dylan Vazzano)
Tech closes out both its Thanksgiving road stretch and play in the Global Sports Shootout Friday evening, visiting first-time opponent Ohio in a 6 p.m. CT tilt.
Ohio is in its third season under the direction of head coach Saul Phillips.
The Bobcats return 10 letterwinners and four starters from last year's squad that won 23 games and finished second in the Mid-American Conference East Division.
Ohio also earned a berth in the College Basketball Invitational, making it to the semifinals before bowing out to Tech's OVC rival, Morehead State, 77-72.
The Bobcats were picked second in the MAC East this season, falling four points shy of Akron despite picking up a 16-15 advantage in first-place votes.
Ohio was also selected second in the MAC Tournament Predicted Champion poll, falling four votes shy of Akron.
Ohio returned two players to make the 2016-17 Preseason All-MAC East Division Team, including senior forward Antonio Campbell and junior guard Jaaron Simmons.
The Bobcats own a 3-0 record in 2016-17, with victories over Southern (77-67) and Sam Houston State (96-75) and at Georgia Tech (67-61).
On the year, Ohio boasts four double-digit scorers, including Campbell (19.7), Kenny Kaminski (15.3), Jordan Dartis (12.0) and Simmons (11.3). Campebell also leads the team with 9.3 rebounds per game while Simmons leads with 7.3 assists per game.
Ohio is shooting a scorching 47.8 percent from 3-point range on the year, ranking fourth nationally.
Kaminiski leads the barrage, boasting a sizzling 14-for-21 showing from down town this season.
Tennessee Tech and Ohio will meet for the first time in program history.
The Golden Eagles are 16-18 all-time against the current members of the MAC.
Tech owns a 4-0 record against Eastern Michigan and a 3-1 mark against Ball State.
Former Ohio Valley Conference foe Akron owns a slight, 9-8 advantage against Tech, with every meeting occurring during the Zips' time in the OVC.
Earlier this season, Tech played Central Michigan for the first time in program history, falling to the Chippewas, 86-74.
The Golden Eagles will make a visit to Miami (Ohio) on Dec. 22, returning the trip made by the RedHawks last season to Cookeville. Tech won the match-up, 77-64.
The Golden Eagles' shooting woes continued Tuesday evening, as Tech fell in Baton Rouge to Southern U., 80-68.
The Tech offense shot just 39.3 percent from the field and 24 percent from beyond the arc in the contest, marking the fourth time this season those numbers fell below 40 percent and 25 percent, respectively.
The Golden Eagles were out-rebounded for the first time in 2016-17, as Southern gathered a 39-34 advantage on the glass.
Tech connected on a season-high 85.7 percent of its attempts from the charity stripe, attempting seven more freebies over the first 20 minutes and earning a foul count of seven to Southern's 11.
The tables flipped in the second half, with the Golden Eagles collecting an unprecedented 13 fouls (as opposed to the home team's eight fouls) and sending the Jags to the line 17 times, 16 of which they converted.
At the end of it all, Tech out-rebounded its fourth straight opponent to open the year, hauling in 41 to Sam Houston State's 36 boards, including a 16-8 advantage on the offensive glass.
Senior guard Kajon Mack led Tech with 18 points, adding five rebounds, two assists a block and three steals.
The 2016-17 Tech roster features 14 players (12 scholarship student-athletes) representing seven states and two countries.
Five Golden Eagle players hail from the state Tennessee, while Georgia represents the only other state boasting multiple Tech players. California, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey, and Oklahoma all represent home for one player each.
Two Tech players were born outside the United States, with two still living in their native countries when not in Cookeville. Aleksa Jugovic is from Serbia and Stephaun Adams was is from the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Tech has two seniors, five juniors, four sophomores, a redshirt freshman and two true freshmen.
Eight Golden Eagles stand 6-foot-5 or taller while the other six measure at 6-foot-4 or shorter.
After spending the 2015-16 season building his strength and size and working on his low post moves as a redshirt, Micaiah Henry looks poised to move into a starting role right away for the Golden Eagles.
The youngster has shown improvement since his arrival on campus, possessing a knack for rebounding and blocking shots.
He also comes from some familiar territory to the Golden Eagle program, hailing from Columbia High School (Ga.).
TTU legend Lorenzo Coleman, Tech's all-time leader in blocked shots also attended Columbia High School. The post also posted the most double-doubles in program history with 40 in four years.
In the season opener at Georgia Tech, Henry scored a team-high 15 points, the most by a Tech freshman since Anthony Fisher score 15 at Ole Miss on Nov. 19, 2004.
Henry's 15-point debut featured a 7-for-10 showing from the field, representing the most field goals made by a Golden Eagle freshman in their debut since Jason Harrell went 7-for-16 at South Carolina on Nov. 17, 2000 and the most without a 3-pointer since Carlos Carter finished 8-for-11 against Clinch Valley College on Dec. 1, 1992.
GIVE ME SOME SUGAR
Junior guard Aleksa Jugovic returns from his award-winning and breakout sophomore campaign in which he jumped from averages of 5.8 points and 2.0 assists per game as a freshman to 12.1 points and 2.9 assists as a junior.
The slick shooter also knocked down 40 more treys while increasing his shooting accuracy from downtown by nearly eight percent.
Fans can follow Jugovic on Twitter under his handle/nickname @SerbianSugar. The moniker, originally developed by Director of Basketball Operations Gus Fraley, was created to help acclimate the Serbia native to the fans of Golden Eagle basketball.
Between his junior and senior years in high school, Jugovic starred for the Serbian U-18 national team, starting at point guard at the 2013 FIBA Europe U-18 Championships. He averaged a team-high 30.2 minutes while recording 8.4 points, 3.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.5 steals per game.
Following his monster sophomore season, Jugovic was honored as the recipient of the Male Breakthrough Athlete of the Year at the Tennessee Tech Athletics Department's first annual Golden Wings Awards.
Jugovic also earned a place on this year's Preseason All-OVC Team after ranking in the top-five in 3-point shooting last season. In league play, the junior was red hot, leading the OVC by hitting at a 50 percent clip.
Additionally, Jugovic ranked third in the OVC in free throw shooting in 2016-17, converting on 86.5 percent of his attempts from the charity stripe.
EARNING A SPOT
A walk-on to the Tech roster back during the 2013-14 season, Mason Ramsey has done plenty to earn the respect of his teammates and coaches in his three seasons in the purple and gold.
The local Livingston, Tenn. native was awarded a scholarship by Steve Payne following the 2014-15 season, Ramsey's first year of action on the court in Eblen Center.
After redshirting in 2013-14, Ramsey became the first Tech freshman since 1986-87 to open his career with a double-double, posting 14 points and 14 rebounds.
Coach Payne had great things to say about Ramsey's leadership qualities over the summer:
"Mason is great at leading by example, communicating, helping others, and making others better. He is doing several of the things we need done, especially by an upper classman after losing three seniors."
After failing to score in the season opener at Georgia Tech, Ramsey has opened up offensively over the past two games, scoring in double figures against Sam Houston State (14) and at Southern (11).
One of four JUCO transfers on the team, Hakeem Rogers became the first Tech player to hit four 3-pointers in his Golden Eagle debut in over 15 years, scoring 18 points in last season's victory over Piedmont College.
Rogers proved to be one of Tech's most valuable scoring options as a junior, coming off the bench to average 9.9 points and hit at 40.1 percent from 3-point range in just 18.3 minutes per game.
The lone senior on the roster that will exhaust his final season of eligibility this season, Rogers is expected to fill a leadership role both on and off the court while making the transition into a starting role for the Golden Eagles.
Rogers represents one of Tech's best offensive player in transition, possessing an ability to pull up from three, take it to the hole or distribute it to others, all while maintaining downhill speed.
Courtney Alexander II has one of the best role models in which to model his game after that a freshman collegiate player can have. And he lives in the same house.
His father, Courtney Alexander Sr., was the 13th overall selection by the Orlando Magic in the 2000 NBA Draft.
Courtney Sr. went on to play three seasons in the Association, including stints with Dallas, Washington and New Orleans.
He led the NCAA in scoring, averaging 24.8 points as a senior at Fresno State.
Alexander II changed the hand he shoots with for the second time in his young career. As a prep player, the forward shot primarily with his left hand, making the switch to his right during his senior season. The rookie began the transition back to his left hand last October.
Mack joins Tech with one year of eligibility remaining, but is likely to be granted a sixth year by the NCAA after missing two seasons due to injury while at Tulane.
The combo guard has displayed the kind of skill set that could make him a dominant player in OVC this season, throwing down thunderous dunks, making fantastic reads and passes and playing stout defense in Tech's scrimmages.
The senior is expected to start and play a major role in the team right away.
Phillips Jr. will sit out the first semester of the season after transferring from Campbell last December. The junior sat out the second semester last year and will be eligible to suit up for Tech for its Dec. 10 match-up at Michigan State.
Phillips Jr. possesses a lot of potential as a wing, averaging over eight points and four rebounds per game while at Campbell.
After earning Big South All-Freshman Team honors in 2014-15, the forward made seven starts and played in eight contests for Campbell as a sophomore before mutually agreeing to part ways with the program.
PUTTING IN THE WORK
Junior Markell Henderson didn't see large chunks of minutes in his first season in the purple and gold last year, but that is sure to change in 2016-17.
Henderson is one of the team's best athletes, consistently throwing down rim-rattling dunks and hauling in tough rebounds down in the paint.
Over the summer, Henderson worked hard on improving his 3-point shooting touch and the hard work seems to have paid off. The junior guard is expected to provide another lethal option from beyond the arc for the Golden Eagles this season.
His rebounding abilities will be a huge asset for a team returning less than 40 percent of its rebounding from last season.
Henderson dropped a career-high 30 points on 11-for-15 shooting against Alabama A&M, including a 5-for-8 showing from the 3-point arc.
Expected to fill a leadership role the instant of his arrival, Tulane transfer Kajon Mack has done just that and more.
Handling primary point guard duties (while shifting to a combo guard role depending on rotations) Mack has been steady through Tech's first five games.
The Los Angeles native has scored in double figures in each of the past four contests for Tech. He also leads the team in assists and steals and is averaging 13.6 points and 4.2 rebounds per game.
In his first season of action, sophomore Savonte Frazier made the most of his opportunities, showing flashes of brilliance in limited action at the point guard position in 2015-16.
Now in his third season in Cookeville (he redshirted the 2014-15 season), Coach Payne expects Frazier to develop into one of Tech's floor generals and team leaders.
The point guard is arguably the most vocal player on the Golden Eagle roster and does a great job of inspiring teammates and helping correct problems in the moment.
Frazier has the ability to get into the paint and create shots not just for himself, but everyone around him. He is also a capable 3-point shooter and tenacious defender expected to make strides in 2016-17.
He led Tech with a career-high seven rebounds and career-best six assists while also notching a personal-best 14 points in the team's victory over Alabama A&M.
Four Golden Eagle players can all make the trip to Cookeville from their respective home towns in under two hours.
Junior Mason Ramsey represents the closest to home, just a 20-minute ride from nearby Livingston, Tenn.
A walk-on freshman last season, sophomore Conner Hall lives just down the road, calling Gainesboro home. Hall played in five games last season.
New to the crew, freshman Miles Thomas played his high school ball at South Doyle High School in Chattanooga, Tenn., a two-hour trip from the Eblen Center. Thomas boasts strong athletic ability and has a very high ceiling for his development to reach.
Colton Blevins is another freshman from the area, hailing from Jamestown, Tenn. Blevins is a hard-nosed, physical presence in the paint and is praised by coaches and teammates for his strong work ethic.
IT STARTS WITH A PHILOSOPHY
The Golden Eagle basketball team owns a philosophy that does not change from year-to-year.
Share the ball and play hard.
Be great defensively.
Know how we win. We win with great defense and an inside-out offense.
We win with high basketball IQ and low turnover totals.
This year's class also brings a special kind of chemistry and different energy level than previous teams.
The players approach everything with a willingness to learn and eagerness to get started and better every day.
JOINING THE RANKS
The Golden Eagles made just one addition for the 2017-18 season during the early signing period, but the coaching staff couldn't be more thrilled with the signee.
Joining Tech from Camden Central High School will be combo guard Hunter Vick.
In his three-year career at Camden, the guard has already scored 1,764 points in just 81 games, averaging 21.7 per game. He has also hauled in 430 rebounds, dished out 283 assists and racked up 202 steals.
His junior season totals proved staggering, as he averaged 26.9 points, 8.0 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 3.0 steals.
UP NEXT: HIWASSEE COLLEGE
The Golden Eagles are set to return home for a Monday evening match-up with Hiwassee College on Nov. 28.
The 6 p.m. CT tilt will represent Tech's fifth ever contest against Hiwassee College and second in the past three seasons, with the Golden Eagles holding a 4-0 advantage in the series.
Photo by Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information