By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – For the second time this season, the Tennessee Tech men's basketball team will square off with in-state rival Lipscomb, playing host to the Bisons Saturday, Dec. 17 at 6:00 p.m. CT.
Tennessee Tech (4-8) vs. Lipscomb (4-9)
Saturday, Dec. 17, 2016
6:00 p.m. CT
Eblen Center – Cookeville, Tenn.
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 4-9 record in 2016-17, with victories over Sewanee, Piedmont, Tech and Morehead State .
The Bisons losses have come at Morehead State, Fordham, Cincinnati, Belmont and Tennessee, vs. 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 19.4 points per game.
Lipscomb features two other double-digit scoring threats as well in Josh Williams (12.7 ppg) and Rob Marberry (10.8 ppg).
Eli Pepper ranks as the team's top rebounder, averaging 7.1 boards a contest while Nathan Moran has proven the team's top distributor (58 assists) and Aaron Korn the team's top 3-point shooter (42.9 percent).
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).
For the second time in three days, a furious comeback bid fell just short for the Tech squad Tuesday evening as in-state rival Tennessee (5-4) downed the Golden Eagles (4-8) in Knoxville, 74-68.
The Golden Eagles fought back from a 22-point, second-half deficit to pull within four points with 20 seconds to play. Just two days earlier, Tech nearly erased an 18-point, deficit at Michigan State, eventually falling to the Spartans, 71-63.
It proved to be a tale of two halves for the visitors from Cookeville, as Tennessee jumped out to a 43-25 halftime lead on 50 percent shooting. Tech shot just 37 percent from the floor over the first 20 minutes, despite sinking five of its last six shots to close the period. The Vols also forced seven turnovers of the Golden Eagles in the first stanza while making just one of their own.
The two sides traded blow after blow in the second half, playing relatively even basketball over the opening eight minutes. Following a media break at the 11:59 mark, the Tech defense entered some kind of "Beast Mode," forcing an inexplicable eight UT turnovers over the next five minutes.
Between the resurgence on the defensive end of the floor and uptick in scoring efficiency, the Golden Eagles chipped, clawed and scratched away at the home team's lead during the span, cutting it to single digits with under five minutes to play.
Tennessee seemed to gather itself for a few minutes, holding the attack of the Tech squad within a 10-point arm's reach as late as the three-minute mark, but still the Golden Eagles fought. A beautiful fake pass from sophomore Savonte Frazier to a heavily guarded Aleksa Jugovic left junior Mason Ramsey with an open parking lot between himself and the bucket with 2:44 to play.
The big man finished with an easy layup to shave it to an eight-point game. Senior Hakeem Rogers followed with a big defensive board on the other end of the floor and kicked off a quick transitional play that would finished with the guard burying a step-back triple to pull the Golden Eagles to within five with under two minutes on the scoreboard.
UT snapped the little 5-0 run with a free throw, but sophomore Courtney Alexander II dropped a dunk on the opposite end of the floor with 21 seconds to play to make it a four-point ball game. The Vols would go on to hit 3-of-4 attempts at the charity stripe to Tech's one in the closing moments of the game, pulling out the six-point victory in Thompson-Boling Arena.
Despite the loss, Tech visibly out-played the Volunteers over the final 20 minutes, posting a 43-31 advantage on the scoreboard. The Golden Eagles shot 50 percent while holding UT to just 40 percent and forced a whopping 13 second-half turnovers. Tennessee's work on the glass (39 to 31 advantage) and from the line (76.2 percent to 68.8 percent) proved the ultimate difference maker in the end.
For the second time in as many contests, Jugovic led the Golden Eagles with 14 points, despite being constantly hassled and arguably roughed up all night. He also hauled in five rebounds in an exhausting 36 minutes of work.
Three other Golden Eagles finished in double figures on the night, including Mack with 11 points, Frazier with 11 and Ramsey with 10. Ramsey also corralled a team-high six boards while Frazier dished out a game-high six assists in 20 minutes off the bench. Rogers chipped in nine points and Alexander posted six with five rebounds.
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 nine straight contests and in all but one of the team's 12 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 fourth on the team with 8.0 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.
Frazier provided 20 huge minutes off the bench at Tennessee, helping Tech nearly erase a 22-point deficit by hitting 4-of-5 shots and 3-of-4 free throws for 11 points while dishing out six assists.
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.
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 at least nine points in each of the past six 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 10.3 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.
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: FURMAN
The Golden Eagles close out their non-conference home slate Monday evening, playing host to Furman at 6 p.m. CT.
Furman is in its fourth season under the direction of head coach Niko Medved.
The Paladins return nine letterwinners and four starters from last year's squad that finished tied for third in the Southern Conference.
Furman was picked to finish fifth in the SoCon this season in the Coaches Poll and third in the media poll, a league Chattanooga was picked to win in both polls.
The Paladins returned one player to make the 2016-17 SoCon Preseason All-Conference Team, junior guard Devin Sibley.
Furman owns a 6-4 record in 2016-17, with victories over Trinity Baptist, Hiwassee College and Navy, and at UAB, Liberty and Gardner-Webb .
The Paladins' losses have come at Presbyterian, Georgia and Winthrop, and versus UNC Asheville.
Devin Sibley leads the Paladins in scoring on the year, averaging a team-high 15.0 points per game.
Furman features two other double-digit scoring threats as well in Daniel Fowler (12.1 ppg) and Kris Acox (11.0 ppg).
Acox ranks as the team's top rebounder, averaging 6.1 boards a contest while Matt Rafferty adds 6.0 rebounds per game.
Fowler owns a team-best 51 assists on the year while Geoff Beans ranks first on the team with a 46.2 percent showing from beyond the arc.
This will mark the second meeting between the two programs all-time, with the series tied at 1-1.
Furman won the inaugural meeting between the two teams, a 95-78 victory Dec. 30, 1977 in Greenville, S.C.
The Golden Eagles took the second match-up, defeating the Paladins in San Juan, Puerto Rico, 62-58, Dec. 22, 1997.
Tech is 144-68 all-time against the membership of the Southern Conference.
The Golden Eagles have faced all but three of current SoCon programs, with UNCG, Wofford and VMI representing the only teams not to have squared off against Tech.
Tech owns a .500 record or better against each of the seven SoCon teams it has faced.
TTU is 41-17 all-time against in-state rival Chattanooga and 37-37 when facing another in-state foe, East Tennessee State. Tech is 8-6 against Samford, 5-2 versus Western Carolina, and 2-0 while taking on The Citadel.
Photo by Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information