By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Tech men's basketball team rounds out its non-conference schedule with its final match-up of 2018, making the 100-mile trip down I-40 for a noon CT tilt against No. 3 ranked Tennessee on Saturday, Dec. 29 at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville.
Tennessee Tech (4-8) at #3 Tennessee (10-1)
Saturday, Dec. 29, 2018
12:00 p.m. CT
Thompson-Boling Arena (21,678) – Knoxville, Tenn.
This marks the 25th meeting all-time between the two programs, with Tennessee owning a dominating 23-1 lead in the series.
The Golden Eagles are 1-22 all-time against the Vols in Knoxville, with only one contest occurring in Cookeville, a loss for Tech.
The largest crowd in Eblen Center history took place in a contest against Tennessee, as over 10,000 fans packed the Hoop in the first round of the NIT back in the 1985. The Vols edged the Golden Eagles, 65-62.
The in-state rivalry dates back to 1939, when the Vols defeated Tech 37-23 in Knoxville. The series took more than a 35-year hiatus with no meetings between a 1949 tilt and the 1985 NIT contest.
Tech's lone win in the series came back on Dec. 4, 1996. The Golden Eagles defeated the Vols in Knoxville, 73-62.
Each of the team's last two match-ups have come down to the final few minutes, with Tennessee claiming close victories over Tech in 2014 (61-58) and 2016 (74-68).
TECH VERSUS THE SEC
The Golden Eagles are 10-67 all-time against the current membership of the Southeastern Conference.
Tech has taken on 12 of the SEC's current 14 teams. The Golden Eagles have never faced LSU or Texas A&M.
TTU has wins against Auburn, Ole Miss, South Carolina, Tennessee and Vanderbilt in its history. The team's most success has come against Vanderbilt, with Tech winning six times over the years.
On the road, Tech is 4-58 all-time against the current membership of the SEC.
TECH VERSUS TENNESSEE
The Golden Eagles are 391-309 all-time against current Division I competition from the state of Tennessee, including a 127-187 mark on the road.
Tech has taken on each of the other 11 schools from the Volunteer State, having faced each program at least 19 times.
The most contests against an in-state foe have come against Ohio Valley Conference rival Austin Peay, a whopping total of 143. Tech owns a 74-69 advantage in the series. Tech has also squared off with Middle Tennessee 140 times, owning an 81-59 record against the former OVC rival.
Chattanooga ranks fifth on the list in total number of match-ups among the state's programs, with Tech holding the 42-18 advantage in 60 meetings.
The Golden Eagles own a winning record against all but four Tennessee squads. Tech and East Tennessee State are currently in a stalemate in their series, a record of 37-37. The only three teams to boast a winning mark against Tech are Memphis, Tennessee and Vanderbilt.
Tech will still face four schools from Tennessee this season, including all four members of the OVC from the Volunteer State, Austin Peay, Belmont, Tennessee State and UT Martin.
Redshirt freshman Hunter Vick turned in his second-straight 20-point effort against Savannah State, leading all scorers with 22 points on 8-for-16 shooting. He hit 4-of-7 tries from 3-point range and managed four assists with zero turnovers, three steals and a block.
It marked the fourth 20-point performance of the season for the young guard, tying Bruce Oglesby (1990-91) for the most by Tech rookie in team history. Only Earl Wise, the program's all-time leading scorer, posted more, totaling a whopping 12 during the 1986-87 campaign.
In just his third game in the purple and gold, after sitting out the first nine games of the year due to injury, graduate transfer Malik Martin dropped his second career 20-point showing. He finished 7-for-15 and 6-for-8 from the charity stripe for 20 points. He added four rebounds, three assists and a steal.
Courtney Alexander II racked up his third double-double of the season, finishing with 11 points and 12 rebounds, as well as three steals. He now has seven in his career.
Fellow rookie Jared Sherfield is currently averaging 2.0 steals per game, ranking fourth in the OVC with a mark that would finish as the highest-ever by a Tech freshman.
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