By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Tech men's basketball team wraps up the 2018-19 campaign Saturday afternoon, visiting Eastern Illinois in Charleston for a 3:15 p.m. CT matinee in Lantz Arena.
Tennessee Tech (7-23, 3-14) at Eastern Illinois (14-16, 7-10)
Saturday, Mar. 2, 2019
3:15 p.m. CT
Lantz Arena (5,300) – Charleston, Ill.
This marks the 42nd meeting all-time between the two programs, with Tech owning a 25-16 lead in the series.
Tech is 10-9 when facing Eastern Illinois in Charleston, which include victories in the three of the past five match-ups in Lantz Arena.
The Panthers won last season's affair in Charleston, exploding in the second half for 50 points on their way to a 79-71 victory. Shaq Calhoun led the Golden Eagles with 23 points in the loss, sinking 6-of-8 attempts from downtown. Mack Smith erupted for 31 points for EIU, hitting 12 of his 17 shot attempts.
Although the two teams have seen overtime just once in 40 games against each other, the two programs have combined for seven extra sessions so far in the 2018-19 OVC slate, including EIU's double-overtime loss against Jacksonville State Thursday night. Tech won the only 45-minute match-up in the series, an 83-80 decision in Charleston on Dec. 8, 2005.
Both match-ups this season has seen at least one of the teams hit overtime in their contest leading up to the game. Earlier this season, the Golden Eagles took on EIU after outlasting SIUE in overtime on in its previous contest, pulling away late for a 78-69 victory in the Eblen Center.
Eastern Illinois has seemingly lived in overtime this season, playing an extra session five times. The Panthers started 4-0 in those contests, losing just the Thursday bout with JSU.
Tech head coach Steve Payne knows a thing or two about overtime himself, owning a dazzling 8-2 mark in extra time as the head man of the Golden Eagles.
Junior big man Micaiah Henry led the Golden Eagles in scoring at SIUE, posting 15 points, six rebounds and a pair of blocks in just 24 minutes of action before fouling out. Courtney Alexander II led all players with 11 boards.
Jr. Clay, Corey Tillery and Jared Sherfield all joined Henry in double figures, scoring 13, 13 and 11 points, respectively. Sherfield notched his third straight double-digit performance after posting just one prior all season long.
Hunter Vick saw his streak of eight consecutive double-figure scoring performances end at SIUE, a mark that began with 14 points against Austin Peay on Jan. 31. He averaged 12.9 points per game during the stretch.
Last week, Sherfield averaged 19.5 points and 7.5 rebounds per game while shooting 13-of-19 from the field and 6-of-9 from 3-point range. He increased his season scoring average from 3.2 points per game to 4.3 in just two games. With Sherfield's 20-point showing against Morehead State, this year's freshman class represent the first in program history with three players to post 20 points in at least one game.
Vick just missed out on tying the Tech program record for consecutive free throws made against Eastern Kentucky, finishing 7-for-8 at the line. He made his first six of the contest, totaling 28 straight converted freebies, just two shy of the school mark of 30 held by Jud Dillard (2012-13) and Maurice Houston (1993-94). Greg Bibb made 29 straight during the 1994-95 campaign.
After rejecting two more shots at SIUE, junior big man Micaiah Henry moved into fourth place on Tech's all-time career records list for blocks with 111. 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 five rejections to pass Milos Babic (1987-90) and move into third 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. Vick currently averages 10.9 points per game.
With 13 points at SIUE, Clay has now recorded 23 double-digit scoring efforts this season, the second most in program history 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 Thomas Corhern