By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – After nearly a week off from competition, the Tennessee Tech men's basketball team returns to action Saturday, Dec. 15 when it travels south for a 3:00 p.m. CT tilt with Kennesaw State.
Tennessee Tech (3-7) at Kennesaw State (1-9)
Saturday, Dec. 15, 2018
3:00 p.m. CT
KSU Convocation Center (4,600) – Kennesaw, Ga.
This marks the third meeting between the two programs all-time, with Tech owning a 2-0 series lead.
This will represent the teams' first meeting in Kennesaw, having faced off once in Cookeville and once at a neutral site, Las Vegas.
The Golden Eagles won the inaugural tilt between the two squads, defeating the Owls in Las Vegas on Dec. 22, 2011. In the first game of the Las Vegas Classic, which Tech would go on to win with a 67-59 victory over Bethune-Cookman the next day, the purple and gold took the win 81-68.
Former Tech greats Kevin Murphy and Jud Dillard paced the Golden Eagles in the contest. Murphy snagged a double-double with 21 points and 10 rebounds while Dillard chipped in 16 points and nine boards. Liam McMorrow and Zach Bailey provided great depth off the bench with 15 and 13 points respectively. Zac Swansey dished out 10 assists.
The last meeting between the two programs also went in favor of Tech, nearly by an identical score to the first contest. The Golden Eagles defeated the Owls in Cookeville last season on Nov. 18, 2017, using a second-half surge for a comfortable 82-68 win.
Courtney Alexander II recorded a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds while Curtis Phillips Jr. led all scorers with 21 points. Aleksa Jugovic, Mason Ramsey and Kajon Mack all tallied double figures efforts with 14, 12, and 10 points respectively.
TECH VERSUS THE ASUN
Tech is 55-19 all-time against the current membership of the Atlantic Sun Conference, including a 19-13 mark on the road.
The Golden Eagles have faced all but three of the nine current ASUN programs, with Florida Gulf Coast, Liberty and NJIT representing the only teams not to have squared off against Tech.
Tech owns a .500 record or better against five of the six ASUN teams it has faced.
TTU is 42-9 all-time against in-state rival Lipscomb and 2-0 against both Kennesaw State and North Florida.
Tech is 6-5 against Stetson and 1-1 against North Alabama. Only Jacksonville owns a winning record against the Golden Eagles, a mark of 4-2.
TECH VERSUS GEORGIA
The Golden Eagles are 15-17 all-time against current Division I competition from the state of Georgia, including a 4-13 mark on the road.
After visiting Savannah State earlier this season, the Golden Eagles have faced each of the seven current Division I programs from Georgia. Following its visit to Kennesaw, Tech will also have played on the road against each of those teams.
Tech's best success against Peach State competition has come when facing Georgia Southern and Kennesaw State. The Golden Eagles are 6-4 against GSU and 2-0 against KSU. Tech also holds a winning record against Georgia State, 2-1.
The Golden Eagles own at least one victory against four the of the Georgia schools, lacking success against only Georgia, Georgia Tech and Savannah State. Tech will play host to Savannah State on Thursday, Dec. 20 with a chance for its first victory against the Tigers.
Tech clinched its second straight victory of the season thanks to its second straight performance of shooting better than 50 percent from the floor.
The Golden Eagle bench accounted for 51 of the team's 97 points, leading to seven different Tech players scoring at least nine points in the contest. Two more recorded seven.
Graduate transfer Johnnie Vassar erupted for a career-high 20 points in the contest, scoring 16 during an 18-2 run in the second half. Tech's lead extended from 19 to 35 during a six-minute span. His also added five rebounds while playing just 18 minutes off the bench.
Fellow graduate transfer Malik Martin made his Golden Eagle debut after missing the first nine games due to injury. The USF transplant played 18 minutes off the bench, finishing 3-for-5 with seven points.
The 2018-19 schedule proves as one of the most daunting for the Golden Eagles in program history. Preseason rankings placed it as the first season in team history where the Golden Eagles faced three preseason 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