By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Tech men's basketball team returns home after kicking off the 2018-19 campaign at Memphis on Tuesday, hosting Presbyterian in the home opener on Saturday, Nov. 10 against Presbyterian. The first time the two programs will meet, tip is scheduled for a 6 p.m. CT start and will follow the Golden Eagle volleyball team's final home contest of the season (2 p.m. start).
Tennessee Tech (0-1) vs. Presbyterian (0-1)
Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018
6:00 p.m. CT
Eblen Center (7,500) – Cookeville, Tenn.
This marks the first-ever meeting between Tennessee Tech and Presbyterian.
One connection does exist between the two teams, Presbyterian head coach Dustin Kerns. The second-year leader of the Blue Hose took his first job in college basketball with Tennessee Tech, serving as the director of basketball operations for newly minted head coach Mike Sutton during the 2002-03 campaign.
Also on the Sutton's staff that first season? Current Golden Eagle head coach Steve Payne, who served as Sutton's associate head coach all nine years of his tenure before taking over the reins in 2011-12.
Tech finished the 2002-03 season 20-12 overall, one of just five 20-win campaigns in program history. The Golden Eagles also concluded OVC play that season 11-5, finishing third overall in the regular season standings.
The purple and gold would go on to win its first two OVC Tournament games, defeating UT Martin (76-62) and Morehead State (88-71). The team would eventually fall in championship game to in-state rival Austin Peay (63-57).
TECH VERSUS THE BIG SOUTH
The Golden Eagles are 5-3 all-time against the current membership of the Big South Conference, including a 3-1 mark in Cookeville.
Following this match-up, Tech will have taken on five of the Big South's 11 teams. The Golden Eagles have never faced Campbell, Hampton, Longwood, Radford, USC Upstate or Winthrop.
In addition to facing Presbyterian for the first time this season, Tech will also face Winthrop in the first-ever meeting between the two programs on Wednesday, Nov. 28 here in Cookeville.
TTU's best luck against the Big South has come against UNC Asheville, boasting a 2-1 mark all time and 2-0 record in the Eblen Center. The Golden Eagles have claimed at least one victory against each of the four Big South teams they have faced.
TECH VERSUS SOUTH CAROLINA
The Golden Eagles are 13-11 all-time against current Division I competition from the state of South Carolina, including a 6-3 mark in Cookeville.
Tech has taken on eight different schools from the Palmetto State, making Presbyterian the ninth. The purple and gold will make it an even 10 against the state of South Carolina when Winthrop comes to town on Nov. 28.
TTU has turned in three victories against two South Carolina programs, including Clemson (3-3) and Coastal Carolina (3-1). Tech also has at least one win against each of the eight teams it has faced from South Carolina.
Junior center Micaiah Henry turned in the best outing of his career in the team's season-opener at Memphis, posting career highs of 23 points and 13 rebounds to record his first career double-double. Henry led the Golden Eagles in both categories and added a pair of blocks while finishing a sizzling 8-of-9 from the field.
Henry's 23-point outburst marked the highest scoring effort for a Tech big man in nearly three years. The last post player to record at least 20 points? Charles Jackson, back in 2014-15. He notched 21 and 10 boards in a contest against UT Martin. He was also the last TTU center to post more than Henry's 23, dropping a whopping 28 points and 16 rebounds against North Florida on Dec. 29, 2014.
With his career performance, Henry became the 114th Golden Eagle in program history to join the double-double club. Courtney Alexander II represents the only other current Tech player to achieve the feat in the purple and gold.
Redshirt freshman Hunter Vick turned in a solid collegiate debut, scoring 10 points and grabbing six rebounds in the team's loss at Memphis.
Vick became the first Tech freshman to score in double figures in his collegiate debut on the road since Micaiah Henry dropped 15 points at Georgia Tech on Nov. 11, 2016.
The rookie became the first Golden Eagle freshman to score in double figures and hit a 3-pointer since Kevin Murphy scored 10 points at Lipscomb (1-for-3 on 3FG) on Nov. 18, 2008.
He also became the first Tech freshman guard (Murphy was listed as a forward until his senior campaign) to score 10 points in his collegiate debut on the road since David Minaya collected 11 (3-for-5 on 3FG) at Rutgers on Nov. 9, 2007.
The 2018-19 schedule proves as one of the most daunting for the Golden Eagles in program history. Current preseason rankings would have it be the first season in team history where the Golden Eagles face three top-10 teams. (No. 6 Tennessee, No. 8 North Carolina and No. 10 Michigan State).
Tech has faced three different top-15 teams just once in school history, back in 1993-94. Then head coach Frank Harrell's squad took on No. 1 Kentucky, No. 12 Indiana and No. 14 UConn throughout the season.
Tech was predicted to finish fifth overall in the 2019 OVC race in voting by the league's head coaches and SIDs.
The 2018-19 Tech roster features 17 players (13 scholarship student-athletes) representing five states.
Ten Golden Eagle players hail from the state Tennessee, while Georgia boasts a total of three Tech players. Florida represents home to two Golden Eagles while both Alabama and Illinois are represented by one Tech player each.
Tech has two graduate students, two seniors, four juniors, one sophomore, one redshirt freshman and seven true freshmen.
Ten Golden Eagles stand 6-foot-5 or taller while the other seven measure in at 6-foot-4 or shorter.
A whopping 11 members are new to the Tech squad for 2018-19, including Spencer Chandler, Jr. Clay, Garrett Golday, Malik Martin, Chris McNeal, Caden Mills, Chase Ridenour, Jared Sherfield, Tyler Thompson, Johnnie Vassar and Reece Wilkinson.
WINDS OF CHANGE
Last year, the Golden Eagles returned 71.0 percent of their scoring. This season, things look a little different for the purple and gold. Just 19.4 percent of Tech's points will return in 2018-19.
In 2017-18, seven of TTU's top eight scorers returned to help lead the team to 19 wins. This season, the Golden Eagles have lost their top five scorers from last year, all of which averaged double figures.
Senior Courtney Alexander II represents the top returner at 6.8 points per game.
Tech represents the only OVC team in the league not returning at least one of its top five scorers from a season ago.
Alexander also marks the only returning starter from 2017-18, making 32 starts in 33 games. He led the team in both rebounds and blocks last season.
Tennessee State is the only other team in the OVC returning just one starter from last season. The team also hired a new head coach in the offseason.
Tech's five returning players who saw action in 2017-18 ranks the Golden Eagles as the second-lowest in the league behind Southeast Missouri's four. Belmont also returns just five players from last year.
Overall, the Golden Eagles return just 27.1 percent of their total minutes played from 2017-18, the 12th lowest percentage in the nation. Of Tech's opponents in 2018-19, only Chattanooga returns less (15.2 percent).
Photo by Tony Marable