By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Tech men's basketball team kicks off a tough stretch of three games in four days Thursday evening, visiting in-state rival Lipscomb in a 6:30 p.m. CT in Nashville, Tenn.
Tennessee Tech (2-5) at Lipscomb (2-6)
Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016
6:30 p.m. CT
Eblen Center (7,250) – Cookeville, Tenn.
Radio: 106.1 The Eagle (Dylan Vazzano)
The Golden Eagles will square off with in-state rival Lipscomb in the first of a home-and-home series this season, visiting the Bisons Thursday, Dec. 1 at 6:30 p.m. CT.
Tech will then host Lipscomb in the return contest Saturday, Dec. 17 at 6 p.m.
Lipscomb is in its fourth season under the direction of head coach Casey Alexander.
The Bisons return 10 letterwinners and four starters from last year's squad that finished tied for fifth in the Atlantic Sun Conference.
Lipscomb was picked to finish fourth in the ASUN this season in the Coaches Poll and sixth in the media poll, a league Florida Gulf Coast was picked to win in both polls.
The Bisons returned one player to make the 2016-17 Preseason All-ASUN East Division Team, senior guard Josh Williams.
Lipscomb owns a 2-6 record in 2016-17, with victories over Sewanee (96-53) and Piedmont (99-70). The Bisons losses have come at Morehead State, Fordham, Cincinnati and Belmont and versus St. Peter's and Fairleigh Dickinson.
Garrison Mathews leads the Bisons in scoring on the year, averaging a team-high 15.6 points per game.
Lipscomb features two other double-digit scoring threats as well in Rob Marberry (11.1 ppg) and Josh Williams (11.0 ppg).
Eli Pepper ranks as the team's top rebounder, averaging 7.0 boards a contest while Nathan Moran has proven the team's top distributor (31 assists) and 3-point shooter (40.5 percent).
The Bisons dropped a heartbreaker to longtime rival and Tech's Ohio Valley Conference foe Belmont Tuesday evening, falling on a last-second layup, 64-62.
This marks the 48th meeting between the two programs all-time, with the Golden Eagles holding a decisive, 41-7 advantage.
The Golden Eagles won last year's match-up in Nashville, edging the Bisons on a last-second 3-pointer from Torrance Rowe, 81-78.
Tech is 51-16 all-time against the membership of the Atlantic Sun Conference.
Tech has only faced three other members of the A-Sun, including Jacksonville (2-4 all-time), North Florida (2-0), and Stetson (6-5).
Lipscomb stands at 2-5 on the year, posting wins against Sewanee and Piedmont. The Bisons losses have come at Morehead State, vs. St. Peter's and Fairleigh Dickinson and at both Fordham and Cincinnati.
HIWASSEE COLLEGE RECAP
Tech jumped back into the win column Monday evening, collecting a lopsided victory in the friendly confines of the Eblen Center, 80-47, over Hiwassee College.
The Golden Eagle defense was out in full force on the night, forcing 15 turnovers while holding the Tigers to a meager 22.4 percent shooting from the field and 20.0 percent from downtown.
Tech's dominance in the paint extended throughout the interior of the circle, as the team out-rebounded Hiwassee 50-39 and blocked a season-high 10 shots.
On the flip side, the Tech offense was eager to spread the love around in the scoring column, with 10 of the 11 players to see the court contributing in that department.
The Golden Eagles collected a season-high 27 assists in the contest, with sophomore Savonte Frazier leading the way with a career-best mark of seven.
Individually, Aleksa Jugovic posted his fourth 20-point outing of the season and second in-a-row while firing at a red-hot pace from the floor. The junior finished 8-for-12 while knocking down three of his seven attempts from beyond the arc, accounting for a team-high 20 points. He also dished out three assists.
Fellow junior Markell Henderson also posted double figures in the scoring column, boasting 12 points while also corralling a season-high four rebounds.
Senior guard Hakeem Rogers marked Tech's third double-figure scorer, totaling 11 points behind a 4-for-9 night from the field. He also knocked down three triples in the contest.
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.
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 2015-16, converting on 86.5 percent of his attempts from the charity stripe.
The junior had an up-and-down start to the 2016-17 season, but has seemed to find his stroke from beyond the arc again. He leads the team in scoring with 15.7 points per game and has dropped at least 20 points four times, including each of the team's previous two games.
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, ranking fourth on the team with 7.7 points per game and serving as the team's most consistent scoring threat in the paint.
THAT MACK ATTACK
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 as steady as they come in the early portion of the season.
The Los Angeles native has scored in double figures five times. He also leads the team in assists and steals and is averaging 12.0 points and 4.6 rebounds per game.
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.
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: ALABAMA A&M
Tech stays on the road as part of tough stretch of three games in four days, making a visit to Alabama A&M Saturday, Dec. 3 at 6:00 p.m. CT.
This match-up represents the Bulldog's first home contest of the 2016-17 season and only one until Jan. 2 when A&M opens Southwestern Athletic Conference play against Jackson State.
Alabama A&M is in its sixth season under the direction of head coach Willie Hayes.
The Bulldogs return a pair of Preseason All-SWAC Second Team selections for 2016-17, senior guard Rakiya Battle and senior center Quinterian McConico.
A&M owns an 0-6 record in 2016-17, falling to Missouri State, Missouri, Tech, Southern Miss, Murray State and UAB, all on the road.
De'Ederick Petty leads the Bulldogs in scoring on the year, averaging 12.3 points per game.
Alabama A&M's rebounding leader, Quinterian McConico, averages 7.5 boards per game while chipping in 10.2 points per contest.
Tennessee Tech and Alabama A&M will meet for the second time in program history on Saturday, the second meeting between the two teams this season.
The Golden Eagle offense came alive in the two teams' first match-up of the year, scoring 95 points while holding the Bulldogs to just 61.
A&M represents one of two non-conference opponents Tech will play a home-and-home series with in 2016-17. TTU also plays Lipscomb twice in a home-and-home series (Dec. 1 & 17).
The Golden Eagles are 7-3 all-time against the current membership of the Southwestern Athletic Conference.
Tech also visited SWAC member Southern for the first time this season, falling to the Jaguars, 80-68.
Last season, the Golden Eagles finished 2-0 against teams from the SWAC, earning home victories over Jackson State and Mississippi Valley State.
Tech's only losing record against the SWAC is an 0-1 mark against Alabama State.
Photo by Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information