By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Tech men's basketball team will kick off a three-game road swing with a trip north to the "Land of Lincoln" beginning with a Thursday night match-up at SIUE at 7:00 p.m. CT. The Golden Eagles will remain north for a Saturday contest against the Panthers of Eastern Illinois, with tip set for 3:15 p.m.
Tennessee Tech (15-8, 7-3) at SIUE (7-14, 3-7)
Thursday, Feb. 1, 2018
7:00 p.m. CT
Vadalabene Center (4,000) – Edwardsville, Ill.
SIUE is in its third season under the direction of head coach Jon Harris.
The 2017-18 season marks the 50th season of SIUE men's basketball. The program began with the 1967-68 season, the first of three under the late Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer Harry Gallatin.
David McFarland was named OVC co-Newcomer of the Week last Monday after averaging 20.0 points per game against Southeast Missouri and UT Martin. He scored a career-best 22 points and hauled in a career-high nine rebounds against SEMO. McFarland drained five 3-pointers in each of the games.
Jalen Henry is fifth in the OVC in scoring at 16.3 points. He has scored in double figures 19 times, has six games of 20 or more points and owns four double-doubles this season. He ranks 10th in the OVC at 7.1 rebounds per game.
Henry was named OVC co-Player of the Week Jan. 8 after averaging 25.5 points over two games. He scored a career-high 35 points at Eastern Kentucky. He knocked down a career-best 13 shots, including five 3-pointers, also a career high. His 35 points are the most at SIUE since Burak Eslik scored 40 against Morehead State in January 2016 is tied for the third most in a game in program history.
Brandon Jackson enjoyed a career week for the Cougars, averaging 15.5 points a game Jan. 11 and 13 against Belmont and Tennessee State. He poured a career-high 19 points on 6-of-7 shooting against Tennessee State. He is fourth on the team in scoring during OVC play at 8.6 points per game.
This will mark the 11th meeting between the two programs all-time, with Tech owning a 7-3 advantage.
The Golden Eagles have won each of the past two meetings between the two programs, including last season's tilt in Edwardsville.
Tech edged SIUE 72-66 on New Year's Eve last season, thanks in large part to a fantastic showing by Kajon Mack. The point guard tallied 22 points and seven rebounds while hitting 4-of-6 attempts from beyond the arc.
The win marked just the second in five trips to Edwardsville by a Tech squad, and first since the inaugural trip to Vadalabene Center back in February 2011.
Tennessee Tech (15-8, 7-3) at Eastern Illinois (7-14, 3-7)
Saturday, Feb. 3, 2018
3:15 p.m. CT
Lantz Arena (5,300) – Charleston, Ill.
ABOUT EASTERN ILLINOIS
Eastern Illinois is in its sixth season under the direction of head coach Jay Spoonhour.
After winning OVC Freshman of the Week honors two weeks ago with a pair of double figure scoring games, Mack Smith continued that scoring streak on Thursday night at Belmont.
Smith finished with a team high 16 points as he was 7-of-12 from the floor. Smith added a team-high six rebounds in the loss. Smith opened his three-game run last Thursday with a double-double against UT Martin (22 points, 11 rebounds). Over the last three games Smith is averaging 18.3 points and 7.7 rebounds per game. He is shooting 54 percent from the field (20-of-37) and 48 percent from 3-point range (13-of-27).
After failing to shoot over 40 percent from the field in their opening six Ohio Valley Conference games, Eastern Illinois has warmed up from the field over the last three games. EIU is shooting 44.6 percent over the last three games while averaging 71 points per game. EIU shot 35.5 percent while scoring 58 points per game in the first six OVC games.
Muusa Dama was 4-of-6 from the field finishing with eight points on Thursday against Belmont. Dama was coming off back-to-back double-doubles last weekend against UT Martin and Southeast Missouri. It was the third straight game Dama finished over 50 percent shooting from the field. In his last six games Dama has shot 50 percent or better in five games and is shooting 54.5 percent in those games (24-of-44). Over that six-game span Dama has three double-doubles and has averaged 10.7 points and 9.2 rebounds per game. Dama is currently 11th in the OVC in field goal percentage.
This will mark the 40th meeting between the two programs all-time, with Tech owning a 25-14 advantage.
The Golden Eagles have won four of the past five and seven of the past nine match-ups between the two programs, including each of the past two.
Last season broke a streak of four straight contests in Charleston decided by four points or less, with TTU and EIU splitting those four games.
Tech blew open the door on that streak last season, cruising to a 19-point victory at Lantz Arena on Feb. 4.
Aleksa Jugovic led all scorers in the contest with 24 points on 4-for-7 shooting from beyond the arc. He flirted with a triple-double, posting six rebounds, six assists and three steals for good measure.
Tech shot a sizzling 55 percent from 3-point range, hitting 11-of-20 on the night.
Last time out, Tech won a defensive struggle over UT Martin, holding the Skyhawks to a season-low first-half total of 20 points.
Shaq Calhoun made two clutch defensive plays in the closing minutes to clinch the win, including a leaping steal and huge block.
Tech (15-8) is off to its best start since the 2015-16 season. The Golden Eagles finished 19-12 that season, including an 11-5 mark and second-place finish in the Ohio Valley Conference East Division. It also marked the program's most recent postseason berth, a bid into the Vegas16 Tournament.
The Golden Eagles showed off the kind of ball movement that ranked them first in the OVC against Morehead State. Tech's 24 assists on 28 field goals (85.7 percent) broke the school record for percentage of assists to field goals made in a single game set earlier this season against Boyce College (34-on-41 for 82.9 percent). Tech added 19 more assists on just 24 field goal attempts (79.2 percent) against Eastern Kentucky.
With 16.0 assists per game this season, Tech is on pace to post the since averaging 16.7 assists in 2002-2003. The 1989-90 Golden Eagle squad set the program record with 20.4 per game.
Following its 63-55 victory over UT Martin, Tech moved to an impressive 9-1 in games decided by single digits in 2017-18, proving the veteran presence of the Golden Eagle lineup is paying off.
A whopping 84.5% of Tech's minutes played have come from upper classman this season (TTU has five underclassmen that have played). That mark ranks third in the OVC behind UT Martin's 85.7% (only two underclassmen) and Eastern Illinois' 85.6% (only three underclassmen).
After receiving 22 points of scoring from its bench against Southeast Missouri, the Golden Eagles are now 9-1 on the year when the bench scores at least 21 points. The lone loss? A five-point defeat at a one-loss Central Michigan squad.
With a 7-1 start to the season, the Golden Eagles completed their most successful month of November in program history. No Tech squad had won more than five games in November prior to this season.
The Golden Eagles are attempting 23.8 free throw attempts at home in 11 games this season as opposed to just 18.2 attempts at the line in 12 contests away from the Eblen Center.
With wins over Omaha and Maryland Eastern Shore to take the Emerald Coast Classic title, Tech won its first early season tournament since claiming the the Las Vegas Classic back during the 2005-06 season.
Tech was predicted to finish fifth overall in the 2018 OVC race in voting by the league's head coaches and SIDs.
DON'T SELL EXPERIENCE SHORT
Tech boasts arguably the most experienced team in the OVC entering the 2017-18 season, returning a whopping 77.3 percent of its minutes played from just a season ago. That mark ranks first in the league by over 10 percent (Eastern Kentucky returns 66.6 percent).
The Golden Eagles also return 71 percent of its scoring from the 2016-17 squad, ranking only behind the Colonels' 75.7 percent. Only Tech, Eastern Kentucky and Murray State return both of their respective top-two scorers, with TTU's Aleksa Jugovic and Kajon Mack combining for 27.0 ppg, EKU's Nick Mayo and Asante Gist totaling 34.4 ppg and MSU's Jonathan Stark and Terrell Miller teaming up for 37.9 ppg.
Aside from the Golden Eagles, only Eastern Illinois and Eastern Kentucky return at least four of their top-five scorers from last season. Tech will return six of its top-seven scorers from the 2016-17 campaign.
40TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE HOOP
Originally opened back in 1977, the Hooper Eblen Center was named for former athlete, head coach and administrator Hooper Eblen, who served the university for 33 years and was instrumental in planning the football stadium and basketball arena. This season, "The Hoop" – or as it was once known, "The Temple of Doom" – will celebrate its 40th season since opening for the TTU Invitational Volleyball Tournament on Sept. 20, 1977.
The Tech men's team hosted the first basketball game in the Eblen Center, earning a 72-71 victory over in-state foe Vanderbilt on Nov. 26, 1977.
The Tech men have enjoyed a home court advantage since the opening of The Hoop, boasting a win percentage of 70.5 in the Eblen Center. From Dec. 2, 2000 to Jan. 4, 2003, did not lose a game in the facility, amassing 33 straight victories for the longest home win streak in program history.
During its 40th anniversary, The Hoop will play host to 29 total basketball games, including 15 for the women and 14 for the men.
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.
Photo by Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information