By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Tech men's basketball team hits the road for its first of two straight contests against Power Fiver conference opponents, visiting East Lansing, Mich. for a Dec. 10 match-up with Michigan State at 1 p.m. CT.
Tennessee Tech (4-6) at Michigan State (6-4)
Saturday, Dec. 10, 2016
1:00 p.m. CT
Breslin Center – East Lansing, Mich.
TV: Big Ten Network (Brandon Gaudin & Greg Kelser)
Radio: 106.1 The Eagle (Roger Ealey)
ABOUT MICHIGAN STATE
Michigan State is in its 22nd season under the direction of head coach Tom Izzo.
The Spartans own a 6-4 mark on the year, gathering wins over Mississippi Valley State, Florida Gulf Coast, St. John's, Wichita State, Oral Roberts and Youngstown State.
MSU's four losses on the year have all come to AP Top 25 opponents, including No. 10 Arizona, No. 2 Kentucky, No. 20 Baylor (now No. 4) and No. 5 Duke.
Michigan State opened the year with one of the toughest first months in both its and college basketball's histories, facing four Top 20 teams and traveling more than 13,600 miles between Nov. 8 and 29.
The Spartans welcomed one of the nation's top recruiting classes to East Lansing for the 2016-17 season, boasting blue chippers Miles Bridges, Joshua Langford, Nick Ward and Cassius Winston.
All four of the team's heralded rookies rank in the top six in scoring for the team, led by Bridges, who leads Sparty in both scoring (16.6 ppg) and rebounding (8.8 rpg), despite missing the last two games with an ankle injury.
Both Eron Harris and Ward contribute double-digits to the scoring column in addition to Bridges, averaging 12.8 and 12.1 points per game, respectively.
Winston has dished out a team-high 5.1 assists per game, despite coming off the bench in each contest. Langford has knocked down 50 percent of his attempts from beyond the 3-point arc (11-for-22).
Michigan State's players received plenty of clout even before the season began. Bridges was named to both the Naismith Trophy and Wooden Award Preseason Watch Lists. Harris earned a spot on the Jerry West Award Preseason Watch List, going to the nation's top shooting guard each year.
This marks the third ever meeting between the Golden Eagles and Spartans, with all three match-ups occurring since 2005.
The two team's squared off Dec. 28, 2005 in East Lansing, an 80-63 W for No. 9 Michigan State. The Spartans would go on to rank as high as No. 4 that season, eventually falling to Cinderella and eventual Final Four participant George Mason in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
The second meeting, also in East Lansing, represented a 73-55 victory for the No. 2 Spartans on Nov. 28, 2010.
In program history, Derek Stribling turned in arguably the best performance of any Golden Eagle against a Michigan State squad, dropping a team-high 18 points on 7-for-15 shooting in 2005. He also snagged five rebounds in 29 minutes of action.
TECH VERSUS THE BIG TEN
The Golden Eagles are 2-16 all-time against the current membership of the Big Ten Conference.
Both of TTU's victories against Big Ten competition have come at the expense of Northwestern, with Tech boasting a 2-0 all-time mark against the Wildcats.
The Golden Eagles have consistently faced some of the best teams in the land when facing the likes of the Big Ten, with seven of its 16 losses coming to teams ranked in the AP Top 25 and four more eventually joining the Top 25 later in the season.
Included in those match-ups have been losses to the 1988-89 Illinois Final Four squad (lost to eventual champion Michigan), the 1998-99 Ohio State Final Four team (lost to eventual champ UConn), last season's Iowa team that fell in the second round of the NCAA Tournament to eventual champion Villanova and three Bobby Knight-coached Indiana squads that made the Sweet 16 or further each time.
Tech has faced off against 11 of the current 14 members of the Big Ten. Just Maryland, Michigan, and Purdue remain on TTU's Big Ten bucket list.
Of the Power Five conferences, Tech has played against more Big Ten opponents than any other league not named the SEC.
CROWLEY'S RIDGE RECAP
Despite the difficult task of playing its second game in less than 24 hours, the Golden Eagles were up to the challenge Sunday afternoon, dispensing Crowley's Ridge, 98-51, behind a team effort across the board.
The Golden Eagles (4-6) led from wire-to-wire against the Pioneers (1-8), with nine of the 10 players to participate scoring points and hauling in a rebound.
Tech set multiple season-high marks in the contest as a team, including points (98), rebounds (59) and 3-pointers made (12).
Tech outscored the Pioneers 46-27 in the first half, but really turned up the heat over the final 20 minutes, gaining a 52-24 advantage.
The Golden Eagles also dished out more than 20 assists for the third time this season, totaling 24 dimes, not to mention nine blocks and eight steals.
Senior Hakeem Rogers led the strong offensive attack on the day, scoring a career-high 28 points while tying the Golden Eagle program record for 3-pointers in a single game, finishing 8-for-13 from downtown.
He also tallied a career-best four steals and finished with four rebounds, three steals and a block.
Another key to the contest was the coming out party for freshman Colton Blevins, who posted not only his first career double-double, but also the first such mark on the team this season.
The big man dumped in 12 points but was even more effective on the glass, hauling in a career-high 12 rebounds.
Henderson also went 100 percent at the line, converting all four of his attempts at the charity stripe.
Tech's fifth player in double figures was big man Ja'Cardo Hawkins. The junior finished with 10 points while just missing out on his own double-double after grabbing eight rebounds. He also dished out three assists.
As he has shown a knack for doing in his time on the court, sophomore Savonte Frazier flirted with triple-double numbers.
The point guard posted a career-high nine assists while scoring seven points and grabbing six rebounds. He also blocked his second career shot.
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 accuracy from deep 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 17.4 points per game and has dropped at least 20 points six times, including each of the team's previous four out of the past five games.
For the third time in his career, Jugovic knocked down seven 3-pointers in a contest, sinking 7-of-11 attempts at Lipscomb on his way to tying his career-high with 30 points.
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.
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 six assists while also notching a personal-best 14 points in the team's victory over Alabama A&M.
The point guard has flirted with triple numbers two more times this season, posting six points, six boards and seven assists against Hiwassee College and seven points, six rebounds and a career-high nine dimes against Crowley's Ridge.
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 players 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.
After averaging just 3.5 points through the team's first six contests, including two scoreless performances, Rogers has finally found the same form that allowed him to be such a successful weapon off the bench a season ago. He has scored in double figures each of the past four contests.
Against Crowley's Ridge, he tied the school record for 3-pointers in a game, finishing 8-for-13 from downtown while tallying a career-high 28 points and four steals.
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 a stat stuffer across the board.
The Los Angeles native has scored in double figures five times. He leads the team in steals and is averaging 10.0 points and 4.2 rebounds per game.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The rookie will sit out the 2016-17 season as a redshirt after coming down with mono just before the start of the year.
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.
The local newbie posted the team's first double-double of the season against Crowley's Ridge, posting career-highs with 12 points and 12 rebounds.
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: TENNESSEE
Tech makes the 100-mile trip down I-40 for its second of two straight contests against Power Five conference opponents, visiting Knoxville for a Dec. 13 tilt with in-state rival Tennessee at 6 p.m. CT.
Tennessee is in its second season under the direction of head coach Rick Barnes.
The Volunteers own a 4-3 mark on the year, gathering wins over Appalachian State, Chaminade, Georgia Tech and Presbyterian.
UT's three losses on the year have all come against AP Top 25 caliber competition, including SoCon favorite Chattanooga, No. 16 Wisconsin and No. 13 Oregon.
Tennessee is also slated to play No. 7 North Carolina and No. 8 Gonzaga during its non-conference schedule.
Senior Robert Hubbs III leads the Vols in scoring on the year, averaging 13.9 points while hitting an absurd 95.7 percent from the charity stripe.
Also averaging double figures for UT are Lamonte Turner (10.4 ppg) and Shembari Phillips (10.3 ppg).
Tennessee has boasted a strong offense, averaging 80.7 points per game with three other players four other players averaging 8.9 points or more.
This marks the 24th meeting between the Golden Eagles and Vols, with all but one of the match-ups taking place in Knoxville.
The largest crowd in Eblen Center history took place in a contest against Tennessee, as over 10,000 fans packed the Hoop in the first round of the NIT back in 1985. The Vols edged the Golden Eagles, 65-62.
The in-state rivalry dates back to 1939, when the Vols defeated Tech 37-23 in Knoxville. The series took a over a 35-year hiatus with no meetings between a 1949 tilt and the 1985 NIT contest.
Tech just missed out on an opportunity for its second victory in the series in the two programs' previous meeting, an eventual 61-58 victory by the Vols in Knoxville.
The Golden Eagles took a 32-26 advantage into the break on the strength of a perfect first half from Torrance Rowe. The junior finished the first 20 minutes 4-for-4 from the field and 3-point range, scoring 12 points. He finished with 14 on the day.
Big man Charles Jackson posted a double-double, recording 13 points and 10 rebounds in 35 minutes.
Photo by Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information