By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Tech men's basketball team heads back on the road for a two-game swing, beginning with a Thursday showdown at the Show Me Center in Cape Girardeau, Mo. against Southeast Missouri. The Ohio Valley Conference tilt is scheduled for a 7:30 p.m. CT tip.
Tennessee Tech (7-16, 3-7) at Southeast Missouri (7-16, 2-8)
Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019
7:30 p.m. CT
Show Me Center (7,000) – Cape Girardeau, Mo.
This marks the 51st meeting all-time between the two programs, with Tech owning a 33-17 lead in the series. The Redhawks hold the slight edge between the two programs when playing Cape Girardeau, a 12-11 advantage.
The Golden Eagles have won two of the past three match-ups while SEMO has claimed three of the past five. The two are an even 5-5 since the 2010-11 campaign. The Redhawks have won each of the past three tilts in the Show Me Center with Tech's last win in Cape Girardeau a 93-86 shootout in 2010-11.
Last season, in Cookeville, the Golden Eagles rallied from a halftime deficit to defeat the Redhawks 76-65. Tech outscored SEMO 47-32 in the second half and outrebounded the visitors 43-23 in the contest.
Kajon Mack led Tech in scoring, dropped 22 points and eight rebounds while playing all 40 minutes. Curtis Phillips Jr. posted a double-double with 19 points and 10 boards, adding six assists on the side. Shaq Calhoun tallied 14 points and Mason Ramsey turned in 10.
For the fourth straight game, freshman Jr. Clay led the Golden Eagles in scoring against Murray State, posting 22 points with five assists and a pair of steals. It marked his fifth 20-point affair of the season, tying fellow rookie Hunter Vick for the second most such performances by a freshman in program history.
Graduate transfer Malik Martin turned in his second career double-double and first in the purple and gold. The 7-footer tallied 14 points while hauling in a season-high 12 rebounds. Vick added 13 points and four rebounds to the mix as well.
Junior big man Micaiah Henry ranks third in the OVC in field goal percentage with at least five attempts per game, hitting 61.0 percent of his shots from the floor. His current mark would rank in a tie for eighth in school history for a single season. Greg Morgan's 67.1 percent clip during the 2001-02 campaign and Alfred Jones' 66.7 percent showing in 2009-10 rank first and second, respectively.
After rejecting three shots against Murray State, Henry moved into a tie for fifth place on Tech's all-time career records list for blocks with 98. He needs just one to pass Bassey Inameti (2007-12) and move into sole possession of fifth place. He requires two to become just the fifth player in program history to block at least 100 shots in his career.
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 13.9 points per game ranks as the second best in program history among freshmen.
With 22 points against Murray State, Clay has now recorded 16 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 Thomas Corhern