By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Tech men's basketball team will wrap up the 2017-18 regular season Saturday evening, playing host to Jacksonville State at 7:30 p.m. CT in a pivotal match-up in terms of Ohio Valley Conference Tournament seeding.
Simply put, a victory provides the Golden Eagles the No. 4 overall seed in the league's postseason event at the Ford Center in Evansville, Ind. More importantly, the seeding comes with a first-round bye into the quarterfinals of the tournament.
Saturday's contest will also represent Senior Night, with a ceremony set to take place between the women's and men's contests to honor the seven senior/graduate members of both teams. For the men's squad, Shaq Calhoun, Aleksa Jugovic, Kajon Mack, Curtis Phillips Jr. and Mason Ramsey will be honored.
Tennessee Tech (18-12, 10-7) vs. Jacksonville State (19-11, 10-7)
Saturday, Feb. 24, 2018
7:30 p.m. CT
Eblen Center (7,500) – Cookeville, Tenn.
ABOUT JACKSONVILLE STATE
Jacksonville State is in its second season under the direction of head coach Ray Harper.
Jax State enters tonight's contest after a 78-67 victory over Belmont Thursday in Jacksonville.
The Gamecocks became the first team to earn a season-series sweep of Belmont since the Bruins joined the Ohio Valley Conference in the 2012-13 season.
With 11 points in the victory, Malcolm Drumwright moved into second place all time on JSU's Division I career scoring list. He now has 1,348 career points, trailing Nick Murphy by 150 points.
Junior Christian Cunningham has been one of the nation's top rebounders and shot-blockers for the past two seasons. The 6-foot-7 forward is already within striking distance of the program's Division I records in both categories, ranking second in each. He boasts 577 career rebounds and 150 blocks.
With their victory over the Bruins, the Gamecocks moved to 3-1 on the year during ESPN broadcasts, earning victories at Chattanooga and against Tech. The lone loss on ESPN was at Buffalo.
This will mark the 35th meeting between the two programs all-time, with Tech owning a 21-13 advantage.
The Golden Eagles have won four of the past six and seven of the past 10 match-ups between the two programs.
Tech has won four of the past five games against the Gamecocks in Cookeville.
The two teams split the season series last year, with the Gamecocks earning a 74-59 win in Cookeville.
The Golden Eagles returned the favor in Jacksonville, earning a 79-78 victory in overtime thanks to heroics from Mack and Aleksa Jugovic.
Mack made back-to-back steals and layups in the final 40 seconds to send the game to overtime while Jugovic hit the game-winning free throws with less than two seconds to play.
Rogers scored a team-high 20 points while Mack added 18 and Jugovic scored 17. Micaiah Henry added 12 points off the bench in 21 minutes.
This season, Jacksonville State won the first match-up in Jacksonville, 82-65.
Curtis Phillips Jr. tied his then career-high with 28 points on 10-for-20 shooting.
Tech (18-12) 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.
After claiming an 69-64 victory against Tennessee State, Tech sits an impressive 12-3 in games decided by single digits in 2017-18, proving the veteran presence of the Golden Eagle lineup is paying off (see page 11).
For the third time this season, Tech broke the program record for percentage of assists to field goals made in a single game against Tennessee State. TTU assisted on 19 of its 22 field goals (86.4%), edging the mark set against Morehead State on Dec. 28 (24-of-28 for 85.7%). The Golden Eagles set the record in November against Boyce College (34-on-41 for 82.9%). Tech also boasted 19 assists on just 24 field goal attempts (79.2 percent) against Eastern Kentucky.
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 13 games this season as opposed to just 19.5 attempts at the line in 15 contests on the road. In the team's two neutral site match-ups, Tech attempted 20.5 free throws per game.
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 returned 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 returned 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 Tony Marable