By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Tech men's basketball team keeps its four-game home stand rolling Thursday evening, welcoming long-time, Ohio Valley Conference foe Eastern Kentucky to the Eblen Center for a 7:30 p.m. CT tilt.
Tennessee Tech (7-20, 3-11) vs. Eastern Kentucky (11-16, 4-10)
Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019
7:30 p.m. CT
Eblen Center (7,500) – Cookeville, Tenn.
This marks the 138th meeting all-time between the two programs, with Eastern Kentucky owning a 74-63 lead in the series. The Golden Eagles hold a 38-29 series lead when playing in Cookeville.
This match-up marks the fifth-longest series in program history, one of five with over 100 contests between the two teams.
Tech has won six of the past 10 match-ups between the two teams. The Golden Eagles swept the season series in both 2017-18 and 2015-16. EKU swept the two-game schedule in 2016-17.
Last season, the Golden Eagles took down the Colonels in Cookeville, 77-69, behind a huge effort from senior Aleksa Jugovic. The sharp shooter drained 5-of-8 tries from deep on his way to 28 points. Mason Ramsey added 18 points and Curtis Phillips Jr. scored 14. Courtney Alexander II corralled a whopping 15 rebounds.
Tech completed the series sweep in Richmond, defeating EKU 70-67 with four double-digit efforts. Kajon Mack led the way with 17 points while Phillips scored 13 and Corey Tillery and Ramsey each finished with 10 points.
Earlier this season, the Golden Eagles won a shootout with the Colonels in a neutral site, 91-85. The two squared off at Georgetown (Ky.) College due to a scheduling conflict with EKU's home arena.
Jr. Clay and Courtney Alexander II both flirted with triple doubles in the contest. Clay racked up team highs of 22 points, nine rebounds, and eight assists, making eight of his 11 field goal attempts. Alexander scored 10 points and snagged eight boards while collecting a whopping seven steals.
Freshman Jr. Clay led the Golden Eagles with 20 points against Belmont, grabbing a team-high eight rebounds. It marked his seventh 20-point outing of the season, ranking as the second-most in program history by a freshman behind Earl Wise's 12 such games. Hunter Vick chipped in 15 points off the bench, sinking 3-of-5 tries from downtown.
After rejecting one more shot against Jacksonville State, junior big man Micaiah Henry remained in fifth place on Tech's all-time career records list for blocks with 104. He became just the fifth player in program history to block at least 100 shots in his career in Tech's contest at Southeast Missouri. He needs seven rejections to pass Anthony Morse (2012-16) and move into fourth place.
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 14.4 points per game ranks as the second best in program history among freshmen.
With 20 points against Belmont, Clay has now recorded 20 double-digit scoring efforts this season. He is on pace to finish with 23 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. Against Belmont, he became just the fourth Tech rookie to reach the 20 double-digit performance plateau, joining Wise with 25, Stephen Kite with 21 (1982-83) and Anthony Avery with 20 (1985-86).
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