October 20, 2010

Talented newcomers join 10 returnees as Tech prepares for opener Nov. 4

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. -- Ten Golden Eagles will return to the Hooper Eblen Center court for the 2010-11 basketball season, a diverse set of young men ready to put their energy, experience and skill to work for ninth-year head coach Mike Sutton and his staff at Tennessee Tech.

Sutton, however, believes that he and his comrades at Tech have added some new dynamics to the team with their signees – namely in the realms of size and pure athleticism.

The Golden Eagles open the season on Thursday, Nov. 4, with an exhibition game against Carson-Newman College. It’s the second game of a season-starting doubleheader, with the women’s team hosting Bryan College at 5:30 p.m.

Tickets for the season are on sale at the Athletics Ticket Office in Eblen Center or by calling (931) 372-3940.

Leading the returning starters are senior Alfred Jones and junior Kevin Murphy, who will step in to fill the shoes left behind by graduated standouts Frank Davis and Elijah Muhammad.

Jones started every game for the Golden Eagles last season, averaging 9.2 points per game, and recorded a season-high 19-point game at Eastern Illinois in January. He led the team with a .667 field goal percentage and in rebounds with 5.1 per game. Post season, Jones was named the team’s Most Improved Player and Top Rebounder, and also earned the Field Goal Percentage Award as his numbers led the Ohio Valley Conference in field goal percentage.

Murphy led the Golden Eagles at the guard position in total points last season with 491, a statistic that ranked fifth in the OVC. He averaged 15.3 points in 31.3 minutes per game shooting over 40 percent from the floor. Murphy ranked second on the team in defensive rebounds, but was recognized at the end of the season for his contributions offensively with the team’s Best Offensive Player Award. Murphy scored in double figures in 28 of 33 games played, his highest mark being a 25-point game at Appalachian State.

Joining Jones and Murphy are returning seniors Byron Pickens and Charles Newton, as well as juniors Riley Hunley, Bassey Inameti and Zach Bailey, and sophomores Terrell Barnes and Jud Dillard. Inameti and Barnes, both forwards, split time as starters last year. Inameti logged 13 starts and led the team with 23 blocks. Barnes started 17 times for the Golden Eagles and was recognized with the Golden Eagle Award for overall contributions to the team.

Bailey played in 28 games, making contributions on the defensive end of the floor, while Dillard averaged 8.8 points per game during his freshman campaign as a guard.

The newest class of eligible Golden Eagles includes two redshirt players,  junior Zac Swansey, a transfer student out of the University of Georgia and freshman Chase Dunn.

“We’re excited about the upcoming year, we’re returning some great guys,” Sutton said. “With Frank [Davis] and Elijah [Muhammad] gone, we’re without our MVP from last year and a member of the 1,000-point club, which is a huge loss, but it’s offset by Swansey and Chase [Dunn],” he explained.

Swansey and Dunn teamed up during practices last year to challenge Davis and Muhammad, learning from them as they conditioned them for game-time situations. Dunn, a guard out of Livingston Academy, will add another offensive element for Tech. Coming from the University of Georgia, Swansey is the only member of the team to have NCAA Tournament experience, as he contributed the game-winning shot against Kentucky in the 2008 SEC tournament to send the Bulldogs to the Big Dance.

Other newcomers to the team include Liam McMorrow, a 7-foot transfer out of Marquette University. Originally from Vancouver, McMorrow is the epitome of raw talent, having played hockey and lacrosse for his whole life up until college. One final transfer student, Matt Marseille from Centenary College, rounds out the new upperclassmen for the Golden Eagles.

Additionally, Sutton has signed true freshmen Javon McKay, Mitchell Hill and Dennis Ogbe to round out the squad for the 2010-11 season.

“I like our team, we’ve definitely added size and athleticism with the new guys,” Sutton said. “The depth of the team is one of our greatest strengths. We have the experience of 10 returnees, and we’ve added players that make us bigger and stronger than we were last year.

“We have the talent and depth to rotate numbers up into the teens,” he added.

Sutton will look to improve the team defensively, something that he feels his new additions will help with.

“We want to be better defensively and rebound the ball,” Sutton emphasized. “That’s a difficult area to be consistent in when you have younger teams. But our increased size and athleticism should translate into playing better defense on a more consistent basis.”

The goals for the season are simple in theory, but not so much in reality.

“Obviously we’d like to win all of our home games and be playing our best basketball at the end of the season,” Sutton said. “The ideal situation is to win at home and steal some games on the road,” he continued.

Standing in the way of those goals is a difficult schedule, starting off with some intense non-conference opponents. The team’s first regular season game is against Sidney Lowe’s North Carolina State Wolfpack in Raleigh on Nov. 12, a team that Sutton defines as “NCAA caliber.” Tech will also square off against Tom Izzo’s squad at Michigan State on Nov. 28, a team that starts the season ranked in the top five in the nation, and could potentially reach the No. 1 spot before the year-end.

“We have notoriously played one of the more difficult non-conference schedules, and this year is no different,” Sutton admitted. “East Tennessee is good, SIU Edwardsville and Lipscomb are good, and two of our non-conference opponents won conference championships last season.”

Tech will also face High Point College, Crowley’s Ridge College, Bluefield College and Appalachian State out of conference.

Aside from a challenging non-conference schedule, the Golden Eagles have the OVC to contend with. After playing three December conference games. the Golden Eagles will return to OVC play in January against Morehead State on the road.

“The league is getting stronger from top to bottom,” Sutton said. “One of the changes over the past two years is that the middle of the league is stronger.” Defending conference champion and NCAA Tournament participant Murray State will be returning a fair number of players, as will runner-up Morehead State.

The Ohio Valley Conference tournament will be held on March 2-5 in Nashville’s Municipal Auditorium, with the top eight teams playing in the four-day event.