By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Tech men's basketball team wraps up its regular season road slate with a match-up against long-time Ohio Valley Conference foe Murray State Saturday night. The Golden Eagles will tip off against the Racers at approximately 7:00 p.m. CT following the women's game at 5:00 p.m.
Tech enters after clinching a spot and at least a top-six seed in the OVC Tournament with an 86-80 victory at Austin Peay Thursday. Senior Curtis Phillips Jr. scored a career-high 29 points on 8-of-12 shooting while Kajon Mack added 19 points and seven assists and Shaq Calhoun scored 16 points.
Tennessee Tech (17-11, 9-6) at Murray State (21-5, 13-2)
Saturday, Feb. 17, 2018
7:00 p.m. CT
CFSB Center (8,600) – Murray, Ky.
ABOUT MURRAY STATE
Murray State is in its third season under the direction of head coach Matt McMahon.
The Racers are 21-5 and have won their last eight games to earn a share of the Ohio Valley Conference lead at 13-2. They've also put together an eight-game home winning streak since a Dec. 19 loss to Auburn.
Jonathan Stark, who was named the CollegeInsider.com Lou Henson National Player of the Week, is having a fantastic season and is scoring a league-best 25.0 points per game. The OVC Preseason Player of the Year is closing on the MSU all-time two-year scoring mark at Murray State. He sits at 1,277 points. Cameron Payne (2013-15) is in second place at 1,279 and DT Mayes (1996-98) is on top at 1,340.
Adding in his freshman and sophomore seasons at Tulane, and Stark has had an amazing career of more than 2,000 points and 500 assists.
Stark, who is one of six active players in the OVC that have 1,000 career points, will face another on that list on Saturday, Tech's Aleksa Jugovic.
Terrell Miller, Jr. continues to make a run at the MSU 1000-Point Club. He begins the TTU game with 918 points in his 59 games at MSU. Miller and Stark will be making their 50th consecutive start together versus Tech.
OVC Freshman of the Year candidate Ja Morant is the OVC Freshman of the Week after he was only two assists shy of averaging a triple-double in MSU's wins over Austin Peay and SIUE. Morant is the second rated freshman in the nation in NCAA D-I in assists per game (6.5) and trails only Oklahoma's Trae Young.
This will mark the 183rd meeting between the two programs all-time, with the Racers owning a 132-50 advantage.
The Racers have won 13 of the past 15 contests between the two teams, including nine of the past 10 in Murray.
Last season, the Golden Eagles split their match-ups against Murray State, earning a regular-season victory at home before suffering a double-overtime defeat in the first round of the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament in Nashville.
In January, Tech collected its second straight win over the Racers for the first time since the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons, defeating MSU 71-67 in Cookeville to snap its five-game win streak in the Eblen Center.
The two sides battled back-and-forth in a thrilling, first-round game in the OVC Tournament in March, with Kajon Mack driving the lane and snagging the game-tying dunk just before the buzzer to force a first overtime.
With six seconds in the game, Jonathan Stark hit a go-ahead and eventual game-winning 3-pointer for the 85-84 victory for Murray State. He finished with 41 points.
Hakeem Rogers led Tech with 20 points and a career-high 10 rebounds for his first and only career double-double. Mack tallied 17 points and seven rebounds, Curtis Phillips Jr. posted 16 points and 10 boards (his first double-double at Tech), Aleksa Jugovic snagged 15 points and Mason Ramsey chipped in 13 points.
The Racers claimed this season's first meeting, 71-45, in a contest that saw senior guard Aleksa Jugovic lost to injury. The sharp-shooter has not played since the contest and will not suit up in Saturday's rematch.
Tech (17-11) 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 offense soared in Clarksville for the Golden Eagles, as the team shot 53.1% from the floor, 52.6% from beyond the arc and 72.7% from the charity stripe. It marked Tech's highest field goal percentage in OVC play this season and the team's best showing from downtown since hitting at 54.5% in shootout victory at New Mexico in November. The team's 86 points were its highest output since defeating the Govs 86-74 in Cookeville in January.
The Golden Eagles are attempting 24.0 free throw attempts at home in 12 games this season as opposed to just 19.6 attempts at the line in 14 contests on the road. In the team's two neutral site match-ups, Tech attempted 20.5 free throws per game.
After claiming an 86-80 victory at Austin Peay, Tech sits an impressive 11-3 in games decided by single digits in 2017-18, proving the veteran presence of the Golden Eagle lineup is paying off.
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.
After receiving 22 points of scoring from its bench against Southeast Missouri, the Golden Eagles are now 9-2 on the year when the bench scores at least 21 points. The two losses? A five-point defeat at a one-loss Central Michigan squad and the team's loss at Indiana.
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.
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 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 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