October 13, 2011

Golden Eagles open practice, launch OVC title quest

Payne wants to develop low-post offense, emphasize shot selection and ballhandling

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – One of the most anticipated Tennessee Tech basketball seasons in recent memory officially begins at 7 p.m. Friday with the start of practice around the Division I college basketball landscape.

The Golden Eagles return four starters and 87 percent of their scoring from the 2010-11 season, which culminated in seven consecutive victories from Feb. 12 to March 4, including two at the Ohio Valley Conference tournament. Tech played in the OVC championship game and made their first postseason appearance since 2002, traveling to face Western Michigan in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament (CIT).

That success has led several publications to tab the Golden Eagles the preseason favorites to win the OVC in 2011-12. Tech is ranked No. 1 in the conference by both the Sporting News and CBSSports.com, and senior guard Kevin Murphy is receiving mention as a Player of the Year candidate in the league.

TTU will also be under new leadership this season, as longtime associate head coach Steve Payne steps in to take over the head coaching post after Mike Sutton announced his retirement in March. Payne retains assistant Russ Willemsen while adding associate head coach Happy Osborne, a former national title winner at NAIA Georgetown, as well as first-year assistant David Boyden, who comes from Western Kentucky.

While Tech hopes to ride the momentum of last season's late-year success, Payne also has a list of improvements he'd like to see in his squad work toward in practice ahead of its Nov. 11 opener at Miami (Fla.). At the top of that list is developing the ability to score in the low post.

"We really want to develop Liam (McMorrow), Terrell (Barnes), Bassey (Inameti), Dennis (Ogbe) and Ryon (Riggins) one-on-one in the post, drawing a double team, getting rid of the ball," Payne said. "Their job is to get fouled, draw a double team or score, and if they do one of those three things, then they've been successful. We're really working on post feeds and trying to develop a low post, back-to-the-basket scoring game."

Other areas of emphasis for the Golden Eagles during the preseason practice period include ballhandling, cutting down on turnovers and shot selection. Payne believes better shot selection down the stretch last season contributed to Tech's strong finish.

Defensively, Payne simply wants his squad to develop more toughness and become a better rebounding squad.

"From a defensive standpoint, we have to have a willingness to grind on people and be a little more physical," he said. "If we can do that, the next step for this team is to become a better rebounding team. We've had some really good rebounding teams here at Tennessee Tech in the past, and there's no reason this team can't be one of the better ones. We didn't exactly pursue the ball last year like I think we should have. I think we can do better."

The Golden Eagles will play an open-to-the-public intrasquad scrimmage at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 18, and again on Sunday, Oct. 23 at 2 p.m. Practice will be open to the public at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 22.

Tech opens its season with a 6 p.m. game at Miami on Nov. 11. The Golden Eagles play their first home game against Reinhardt at 7 p.m. on Nov. 15.

To order season tickets, call (931) 372-3940 or visit TTUSports.com.