By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Tech men's basketball team is set to make 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 Tech (4-7) at Tennessee (4-4)
Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2016
6:00 p.m. CT
Thompson-Boling Arena – Knoxville, Tenn.
TV: SEC Network (Dave Neal & Dane Bradshaw)
Radio: 106.1 The Eagle (Roger Ealey)
Tennessee is in its second season under the direction of head coach Rick Barnes.
The Volunteers own a 4-4 mark on the year, gathering wins over Appalachian State, Chaminade, Georgia Tech and Presbyterian.
UT's four losses on the year have all come against AP Top 25 caliber competition, including SoCon favorite Chattanooga, No. 16 Wisconsin, No. 13 Oregon and a close 73-71 decision at No. 7 North Carolina.
Tennessee is also slated to play No. 8 Gonzaga during its non-conference schedule.
Senior Robert Hubbs III leads the Vols in scoring on the year, averaging 14.8 points while hitting an absurd 96.2 percent from the charity stripe.
Also averaging double figures for UT is Lamonte Turner (10.3 ppg).
Tennessee has boasted a solid offense, averaging 79.5 points per game with four other players averaging 8.8 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.
MICHIGAN STATE RECAP
A late rally against one of the nation's top programs came up just short for the Golden Eagles Saturday afternoon, as Michigan State (7-4) defeated Tech (4-7) in the Breslin Center, 71-63.
Trailing by as many as 18 points in the first half, the Golden Eagle offense exploded over the final five minutes of the period, nearly doubling its prior output for a 13-5 run. At the break, the Spartans lead was trimmed to 10 points, 37-27.
Both sides blasted out of the break on a mission, trading blows over the first seven minutes before the hometown Spartans began to edge the lead back out again.
With just seven and a half minutes to play, Michigan State had it back out to an 18-point game, leading 64-46.
It would be four minutes before the Golden Eagles would allow another score, chipping away at the Spartan advantage little-by-little.
Junior Aleksa Jugovic knocked down two freebies after the final media break, cutting the lead to 11 points with just under four minutes to play.
Sparty finally added to the scoreboard, sinking 1-of-2 free throws before Tech took the ball back and immediately received a clutch 3-pointer off the hands of senior Kajon Mack. In just over four minutes, Tech had the lead back into single digits.
The Golden Eagles kept attacking and, after a fastbreak layup from senior Hakeem Rogers made it a seven-point game, had a huge opportunity to really make the more than 14,000 Michigan State fans in attendance sweat.
Rogers drew a foul on the play and walked to the line with a chance to make it a two-score game. The ball came out just flat, but Mack out-leapt multiple Spartan players to snag the offensive rebound and immediately found an open Jugovic beyond the arc. The Golden Eagle sharpshooter watched as his attempt just missed falling and cutting the lead to four.
The Spartans, who struggled from the charity stripe the majority of the night, made its last four attempts and a dunk to go back up by 11 before a final triple from Jugovic provided the final score of 71-63.
All-in-all, Tech managed to force 13 Michigan State turnovers and kept pace on the offensive glass on the day.
The Spartans out-shot the Golden Eagles from downtown, providing the real difference in the score. Tech finished 5-for-14 from beyond the arc while MSU connected on 10-of-25 attempts.
The Tech defense really locked down over the final 20 minutes allowing Michigan State to shoot just 34.8 percent from the field and 27.3 percent from downtown after posting marks of 58.3 and 50.0 percent in the first half.
The Golden Eagle free throw shooting kept the team in it early, as Tech finished 10-of-11 in the first half. Overall, the visitors tallied a 72.7 percent showing at the line for the game.
All 12 Golden Eagle players saw action with nine scoring in the contest. Junior Curtis Phillips Jr. made his Tech debut against the Spartans, finishing with nine points and three rebounds in 26 minutes of action. The wing sat out the team's first 10 games of the year due to NCAA transfer rules.
Jugovic led Tech with 14 points and a career-high two blocks while Mack added 12 more on 50 percent shooting. Sophomore Courtney Alexander II corralled a game-high 10 rebounds while being limited to 22 minutes due to foul trouble. Rogers tallied nine points as well.
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 17.1 points per game and has dropped at least 20 points six times, including each of the team's previous four out of the past six 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.
Jugovic has knocked down at least one 3-pointer in eight straight contests and in all but one of the team's 11 games this season.
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 fifth on the team with 7.8 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. sat out the first semester of the season after transferring from Campbell last December. The junior also sat out and made his Golden Eagle debut at Michigan State on Dec. 10.
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.
The forward hauled in a season-high 10 rebounds at Michigan State, despite being limited to 22 minutes due to foul trouble.
THE WAIT IS OVER
After sitting out the past two semesters due to NCAA rules after transferring from Campbell, Curtis Phillips Jr. made his Golden Eagle debut at Michigan State.
The junior came off the bench for 26 big minutes and scoring nine points on 4-for-6 shooting. He also grabbed three rebounds, dished out an assist and posted one steal.
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 hometowns 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: LIPSCOMB
For the second time this season, the Golden Eagles will square off with in-state rival Lipscomb, playing host to the Bisons Saturday, Dec. 17 at 6:00 p.m. CT.
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 4-8 record in 2016-17, with victories over Sewanee, Piedmont, Tech and Morehead State .
The Bisons losses have come at Morehead State, Fordham, Cincinnati and Belmont, versus St. Peter's and Fairleigh Dickinson, and at home to Tennessee State and Belmont.
Garrison Mathews leads the Bisons in scoring on the year, averaging a team-high 18.7 points per game.
Lipscomb features two other double-digit scoring threats as well in Josh Williams (12.4 ppg) and Rob Marberry (11.0 ppg).
Eli Pepper ranks as the team's top rebounder, averaging 7.4 boards a contest while Nathan Moran has proven the team's top distributor (53 assists) and Aaron Korn the team's top 3-point shooter (46.2 percent).
The Bisons will match-up with Tennessee following Tech's contest, visiting Knoxville on Thursday.
This will mark the 49th meeting between the two programs all-time, with the Golden Eagles holding a decisive, 41-8 advantage.
Lipscomb captured this season's earlier match-up, firing at a nearly 50 percent output from deep while defeating Tech 104-85.
The two teams combined for 67 fouls and, in the opening 94 seconds of the second half, 12 fouls were called, including an inexplicable nine on the Golden Eagles.
Tech would go on to finish with 38 fouls in the contest, with five players fouling out to leave just six players on the bench, two of which tallied four fouls on the night.
Both tied program records for highest total of personal fouls and foul outs by a Golden Eagle team, making it nearly impossible to ever truly get an offensive flow going.
Tech is 51-17 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).
Photo by Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information