By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Tech men's basketball team continues its three-game road stretch, making the trek north for a match-up against long-time, Ohio Valley Conference rival Morehead State. The two teams will square off in Johnson Arena in Morehead, Ky. Thursday evening in a 6:35 p.m. CT affair.
Tennessee Tech (6-13, 2-4) at Morehead State (7-12, 3-3)
Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019
6:35 p.m. CT
Johnson Arena (6,500) – Morehead, Ky.
This marks the 151st meeting all-time between the two programs, with Morehead State owning an 84-66 lead in the series. The Eagles also own a 46-16 series lead over Tech when playing in Morehead.
This match-up marks the second-longest series in program history, with the Golden Eagles' rivalry with Murray State the only one with more contests (182).
Morehead has won seven of the past 10 match-ups between the two teams. The two programs have split their season series each of the past two years, with the home team coming out on top in all four contests.
Tech's last victory in Morehead came back on Mar. 1, 2014 in the regular-season finale, a 91-84 triumph. Dwan Caldwell had a monster game, leading all scorers with 29 points. He finished 15-for-15 from the charity stripe and grabbed nine rebounds. Dennis Ogbe added 18 points and Jeremiah Samarrippas posted 10 points with nine assists.
Last season, Tech defeated the Eagles in Cookeville in the conference opener, 69-67. Curtis Phillips Jr. posted a double-double off the bench with a team-high 17 points and 10 rebounds. He snagged an offensive board and threw it up for a layup with one second to play to give Tech the win.
Returning to Morehead, the Eagles got the better end of Tech in a 74-55 decision. Phillips led the Golden Eagles again, scoring 18 points.
Junior big man Micaiah Henry led the Golden Eagles with 11 points at Jacksonville State, hitting five of his six attempts at the charity stripe.
Back in action for the first time in two games was freshman point guard Jr. Clay. The rookie came off the bench for 30 minutes of action where he scored nine points, grabbed five rebounds and dished out three assists.
After rejecting four shots against Tennessee State, Henry moved into sixth place on Tech's all-time career records list for blocks with 93. He needs just six to pass Bassey Inameti (2007-12) and move into fifth place. He requires seven to become just the fifth player in program history to block at least 100 shots in his career.
Henry leads the OVC in field goal percentage with at least five attempts per game, hitting 64.8 percent of his shots from the floor. His current mark would rank third in school history for a single season, just trailing Greg Morgan's 67.1 percent clip during the 2001-02 campaign and Alfred Jones' 66.7 percent showing in 2009-10.
Freshmen Jr. Clay and Hunter Vick are both on pace to become the first Tech rookies to average double figures in scoring since Bruce Oglesby averaged 11.5 points per game in 1990-91. They would represent the first Golden Eagle teammates to average double figures as freshmen since Pete Abuls (13.3) and Paul Chadwell (11.6) during the 1978-79 campaign. Clay's current scoring average of 12.2 points per game ranks as the fourth best in program history among freshmen.
With 11 points against SIUE, Jr. Clay has now recorded 12 double-digit scoring efforts this season. He is on pace to finish with 21 such games this year, a mark that would rank second all-time among Golden Eagle freshmen behind only Earl Wise's 25 in 1986-87. Only three Tech rookies have reached the 20 double-digit performance plateau; Wise with 25, Stephen Kite with 21 (1982-83) and Anthony Avery with 20 (1985-86). Rounding out the top-five is Pete Abuls with 19 (1978-79) and Marc Burnett with 17 (1977-78).
The 2018-19 schedule has proven 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).
Those teams were ranked as follows when Tech made its visit during the non-conference slate: No. 3 Tennessee, No. 7 North Carolina and No. 11 Michigan State.
Tech faced three different top-15 teams just one other time 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