By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Tech men's basketball team kicks off Ohio Valley Conference play Saturday afternoon, making a trip north to SIUE for a 2:30 p.m. CT tilt.
Tennessee Tech (4-11) at SIUE (5-9)
Saturday, Dec. 31, 2016
2:30 p.m. CT
Vadalabene Center – Edwardsville, Ill.
SIUE is in its second season under the direction of head coach Jon Harris.
The Cougars return just six letterwinners from last year's squad, as well as three starters, that finished fifth in the OVC West Division.
SIUE was picked to finish fifth in the OVC West this season in the league's preseason poll and sixth in the media poll.
The Cougars own a 5-9 record in 2016-17, with victories over Florida Atlantic, IUPUI and Missouri S&T, and, at Hawaii and Grand Canyon.
SIUE's losses have come vs. Texas State, to Southern Illinois, Stetson and Missouri Western, and, at Arkansas State, Indiana, Saint Louis, Green Bay and Marquette.
The Cougars boast four double-digit scorers on the roster, led by Jalen Henry (12.8 ppg). Jalen Henry (12.2 ppg), Burak Eslik (11.8 ppg) and Carlos Anderson (11.0) ppg) also average double figures.
Keenan Simmons leads the team and ranks fourth in the league with 8.4 rebounds per game while also averaging 6.9 points.
SIUE defeated Missouri S&T, 85-67, Thursday evening, snapping a six-game losing skid dating back to Dec. 2.
For the second straight game, Golden Eagle junior guard Aleksa Jugovic will face off against a team with a player from his native Serbia. SIUE's Luka Radovic hails from Belgrade while Miami (Ohio)'s Milos Jovic shares the same hometown as Jugovic, Leskovac.
This marks the 10th meeting in the all-time series between Tech and SIUE, with the Golden Eagles owning a 6-3 advantage.
Tech has won three of the last four match-ups, but has found victory just once in four trips to Edwardsville.
Last season, the Golden Eagles coasted to an easy, 86-63 victory in Cookeville, backed behind a career-high 26 points from forward Ryan Martin, who finished 8-for-13 from the field and 9-for-10 from the charity stripe.
Fellow big man Anthony Morse also posted a career-high with 17 points, hitting seven of his nine field goal attempts. Both post guys hauled in seven rebounds.
Tech shot an impressive 57.4 percent from the field in the contest while holding SIUE to just 39.3 percent.
MIAMI (OHIO) RECAP
A roller coaster ride from start to finish, the Tennessee Tech men's basketball couldn't quite find the offense late Thursday evening as Miami (Ohio) held on at its home court to defeat the Golden Eagles, 66-58.
Both sides came out on fire to open the contest (Tech's last non-conference tilt of the season), with the Golden Eagles firing at a 54.2 percent clip and the RedHawks answering at 51.9 percent.
Despite the hot hands on both sides, the two teams found themselves knotted at 36 apiece at halftime after combining for a whopping 23 first-half turnovers.
Tech continued its torrid pace to start the second stanza, opening the period on a 12-6 run over the first eight minutes.
The Golden Eagles offense hit a wall after that point, finishing the game with just 10 more points and rounding out a tough half that saw the team finish shooting just 20.7 percent from the field.
The turnovers also continued on both sides, with 17 more tallying up for a grand total of 40 in the contest.
While Tech certainly took advantage of its trips to the charity stripe on the night, finishing 12-for-14 for an 85.7 percent showing, the visitors just couldn't get the whistle to blow in the second half, drawing just six fouls until the 3:52 mark in the contest.
After taking its final lead with 2:34 left on the scoreboard, Miami (Ohio) managed to make three trips to the free throw line, sinking all six of its attempts, which represented all but two of the team's final eight points.
On the night, RedHawk freshman Michael Weathers led all scorers with 19 points while Rogers and junior guard Aleksa Jugovic paced Tech with 14 apiece.
Jugovic tallied a 4-for-8 showing from beyond the arc, representing his 12th straight game with a made 3-point attempt. He also added four rebounds and a team-best four assists.
Junior Mason Ramsey tallied nine points and a career-high four steals on the night, as well as five rebounds.
Alexander contributed a team-high seven rebounds in a game that saw Tech outwork the RedHawks on the glass, 40-33.
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 seven times, including his last time out against Lipscomb, in which he finished 6-for-11 from deep and totaled 24 points.
Jugovic finished 5-for-5 from the charity stripe against Furman, extending his streak to 22 consecutive made free throws on the year, just eight behind the program record.
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.
In the contest he broke the program record for consecutive 3-pointers, sinking all seven of his triples in-a-row.
Jugovic has knocked down at least one 3-pointer in 12 straight contests and in all but one of the team's 14 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 7.7 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-double 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 nine 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.
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.
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 six times. He leads the team with 17 steals and is averaging 10.5 points and 4.3 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.
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.
In his home debut, Phillips Jr. enjoyed a strong showing from the field, finishing 5-for-6 while scoring a season-high 13 points. He also tallied three steals. He tied that mark with 13 more points against Furman.
He ranks fourth on the team in scoring, averaging 8.2 points per game while shooting over 50 percent from the field. The wing is also averaging 2.4 rebounds and 1.4 steals per contest.
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: AUSTIN PEAY
The Golden Eagles return home to Cookeville and the Eblen Center Thursday to play host to in-state and OVC foe Austin Peayin a 7:30 p.m. CT tilt on Jan. 5.
Austin Peay is in its 27th season under the direction of head coach Dave Loos.
The Governors return just six letterwinners from last year's squad, as well as three starters, that finished fifth in the OVC West Division.
Austin Peay was picked to finish third in the OVC West Division this season in the league's preseason poll and second in the media poll.
The Govs own a 4-10 record in 2016-17, with victories over Oakland City and Spalding, as well as versus Northern Kentucky and Delaware.
Austin Peay's losses have come at home against Fort Wayne, Evansville and Lipscomb, and on the road at Miami (Ohio), Fort Wayne, Wofford, No. 16 Indiana and Western Kentucky.
The Govs boast the OVC's top scorer in junior Josh Robinson, who is averaging a team and league-high 21.2 points per game. He adds 3.9 assists and 3.0 rebounds per game as well.
Kenny Jones and John Murry, both formerly of Owens (Ohio) Community College, also average double figures with 14.0 and 12.7 points per game, respectively.
Jones also leads the team averaging 7.0 rebounds and a 61.9 field goal percentage.
This will mark the 141st meeting in the all-time series between Tech and Austin Peay, with the Golden Eagles owning a very slight 71-69 advantage.
Tech has won seven of the last nine match-ups, including each of the past four that have occurred in Cookeville.
Last season, the Golden Eagles held off a pesky Gov squad on the road in Clarksville, collecting a 72-66 victory in early January.
Torrance Rowe carried Tech in the first meeting, dumping 27 points on 10-for-17 shooting and 6-of-11 precision from downtown over 40 minutes of action. He also dished out seven assists.
Senior big man Anthony Morse also put together a fantastic showing, recording a double-double with 12 points (on 6-of-7 accuracy) and 10 rebounds.
Austin Peay got its revenge, however, dismantling Tech in the first round of the OVC Tournament on its way to the league title and berth to the NCAA Tournament.
The Govs shocked Tech, 92-72, led by an inhuman 37-point and 21-rebound performance by Chris Horton, who finished 13-for-16 and 11-of-18 from the free throw line.
Tech shot a season-worst 17.2 percent from 3-point range in the game with the team's top three snipers finishing a combined 4-for-25 from downtown.
Photo by Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information