By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Tech men's basketball team wraps up its two-game road swing in Nashville, visiting in-state and Ohio Valley Conference East Division rival Belmont Saturday morning at 11:00 a.m. CT. in a nationally televised contest by the American Sports Network.
Tennessee Tech (8-13, 4-2) at Belmont (12-4, 6-0)
Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017
11:00 a.m. CT
Curb Event Center – Nashville, Tenn.
Belmont is in its 31st season under the direction of head coach Rick Byrd.
The Bruins return a whopping 11 letterwinners from last year's squad, including four of five starters, which won the 2015-16 OVC regular season title.
Belmont was picked to finish first in the OVC East Division this season in both the league's preseason poll and the media poll, and was also selected as the conference's pick as the overall champion in both polls.
The Bruins own a 12-4 record in 2016-17, with victories at home over Western Kentucky, Lipscomb, Cleveland State, UT Martin, Southeast Missouri and Jacksonville State, and on the road at Pepperdine, Lipscomb, Milwaukee, Austin Peay, Morehead State and Eastern Kentucky.
Belmont boasts the league's top free throw shooting unit with a 75.1 percent mark, despite ranking last in free throw attempts with nearly 100 less than the closest team.
Evan Bradds leads the Bruins and ranks tied for second in the OVC in scoring, averaging 20.7 points per game. He also leads Belmont and ranks third in the league while averaging 8.9 rebounds per game. His 62.7 field goal percentage ranks second in the OVC and leads the team.
Also averaging double figures for the Bruins are Amanze Egekeze (11.1 ppg) and Taylor Barnette (10.0 ppg).
Nick Smith, who hits 41.9 percent of his 3-point attempts, averages just under 10 points per game (9.3 ppg). Also right near the 10-point mark is Dylan Windler (9.1 ppg), who also ranks second on the team with 6.8 boards per game.
Austin Luke represents the team's best ball distributor, averaging a league-high 7.1 assists per game. He averages 7.4 points and leads the Bruins with 19 steals.
This will mark the 20th meeting in the all-time series between Tech and Belmont, with the Golden Eagles owning a 13-6 advantage.
Last season, the two OVC East Division rivals split their season series, with the Golden Eagles providing the Bruins with their first conference loss of the season in an 89-79 victory in the Eblen Center. More than 4,400 fans took in the contest, the largest home crowd for Tech in nearly five seasons.
The Golden Eagles overcame a nine-point deficit with 11 minutes to play, with Torrance Rowe, Hakeem Rogers and Ryan Martin all playing hero for Tech.
Rowe led all scorers with 26 points while Rogers chipped in 20 off the bench. Martin claimed one his many double-doubles on the year, posting 18 points and 13 rebounds while hitting all nine of his free throws. Mason Ramsey also added 10 points off the bench.
Rowe, Rogers and Martin all played key factors into the second meeting of the year, but Belmont exacted revenge on its home court, defeating Tech 95-86.
Rowe again led all scorers, this time with 27 points. Rogers tallied 15 off the bench and Martin captured another double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds.
Both Ramsey and Aleksa Jugovic helped out, with nine points and 10 points, respectively.
GIVE ME SOME SUGAR
Junior guard Aleksa Jugovic returns from his award-winning and breakout sophomore campaign in which he jumped from averages of 5.8 points and 2.0 assists per game as a freshman to 12.1 points and 2.9 assists as a junior.
The slick shooter also knocked down 40 more treys while increasing his accuracy from deep by nearly eight percent.
Fans can follow Jugovic on Twitter under his handle/nickname @SerbianSugar. The moniker, originally developed by Director of Basketball Operations Gus Fraley, was created to help acclimate the Serbia native to the fans of Golden Eagle basketball.
Between his junior and senior years in high school, Jugovic starred for the Serbian U-18 national team, starting at point guard at the 2013 FIBA Europe U-18 Championships. He averaged a team-high 30.2 minutes while recording 8.4 points, 3.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.5 steals per game.
Jugovic also earned a place on this year's Preseason All-OVC Team after ranking in the top-five in 3-point shooting last season. In league play, the junior was red hot, leading the OVC by hitting at a 50 percent clip.
Additionally, Jugovic ranked third in the OVC in free throw shooting in 2015-16, converting on 86.5 percent of his attempts from the charity stripe.
The junior had an up-and-down start to the 2016-17 season, but has fought to become the team's top scoring option. He leads the team in scoring with 16.2 points per game and has dropped at least 20 points eight times and 30 points twice.
For the third time in his career, Jugovic knocked down seven 3-pointers in a contest, sinking 7-of-11 attempts at Lipscomb on his way to tying his career-high with 30 points.
In the contest he broke the program record for consecutive 3-pointers, sinking all seven of his triples in-a-row.
In the season rematch against Lipscomb, he finished 6-for-11 from deep and totaled 24 points.
The European posted once again tied his career-high with 30 points at Tennessee State, willing Tech to an 80-74, overtime victory.
The junior scored or assisted on 15 of TTU's first 16 points and scored 17 of the team's final 25 points over the final 10 minutes of regulation and overtime, including it's first 11 in the extra period.
Jugovic has knocked down at least one 3-pointer in 16 of his last 18 contests and in all but three of the team's 21 games this season.
EARNING A SPOT
A walk-on to the Tech roster back during the 2013-14 season, Mason Ramsey has done plenty to earn the respect of his teammates and coaches in his three seasons in the purple and gold.
The local Livingston, Tenn. native was awarded a scholarship by Steve Payne following the 2014-15 season, Ramsey's first year of action on the court in Eblen Center.
Following a redshirt season in 2013-14, Ramsey became the first Tech freshman since 1986-87 to open his career with a double-double, posting 14 points and 14 rebounds.
After failing to score in the season opener at Georgia Tech, Ramsey has opened up offensively, ranking fourth on the team with 9.3 points per game and serving as the team's most consistent scoring threat in the paint.
Ramsey took his scoring to a new level against Murray State, posting a career-high 19 points. The big man scored 12 of Tech's first 14 points, dominating at every level of the paint.
After scoring just three points in the first half against SEMO, Ramsey came alive over the final 20 minutes, hitting four of Tech's first five shots and finishing with 19 total points for the game. He also corralled a career-high four steals in the contest.
Mack joins Tech with one year of eligibility remaining, but is likely to be granted a sixth year by the NCAA after missing two seasons due to injury while at Tulane.
The combo guard has displayed the kind of skill set that could make him a dominant player in OVC this season, throwing down thunderous dunks, making fantastic reads and passes and playing stout defense in Tech's scrimmages.
Phillips Jr. sat out the first semester of the season after transferring from Campbell last December. The junior also sat out and made his Golden Eagle debut at Michigan State on Dec. 10.
Phillips Jr. possesses a lot of potential as a wing, averaging over eight points and four rebounds per game while at Campbell.
After earning Big South All-Freshman Team honors in 2014-15, the forward made seven starts and played in eight contests for Campbell as a sophomore before mutually agreeing to part ways with the program.
THAT MACK ATTACK
Expected to fill a leadership role the instant of his arrival, Tulane transfer Kajon Mack has done just that and more.
Handling primary point guard duties (while shifting to a combo guard role depending on rotations) Mack has been a stat stuffer across the board.
The Los Angeles native has scored in double figures 14 times. He leads the team with 28 steals and is averaging 11.6 points and 4.1 rebounds per game.
Mack opened OVC play on a high note, dropping a career-high 22 points with a 4-for-6 showing from 3-point range and 6-for-6 performance at the charity stripe, along with a team-high seven rebounds.
He followed that up with a 16-point showing in victory over Austin Peay, sparking a 12-point Tech comeback with tenacious defense and a relentless attack at the rim. Mack posted 16 points on 7-for-9 shooting.
The senior posted 17 points on a 5-for-6 showing from the floor against Murray State. He hit all three of his attempts from 3-point range while posting six rebounds.
Mack continued his torrid start to OVC play at SEMO, sinking five of his seven attempts from the field for 14 points despite being limited to just 21 minutes due to foul trouble.
Facing Jacksonville State, the guard tied his career-high with seven assists. and added 13 points on 6-for-6 free throw shooting.
One of four JUCO transfers on the team, Hakeem Rogers became the first Tech player to hit four 3-pointers in his Golden Eagle debut in over 15 years, scoring 18 points in last season's victory over Piedmont College.
Rogers proved to be one of Tech's most valuable scoring options as a junior, coming off the bench to average 9.9 points and hit at 40.1 percent from 3-point range in just 18.3 minutes per game.
The senior represents one of Tech's best offensive players in transition, possessing an ability to pull up from three, take it to the hole or distribute it to others, all while maintaining downhill speed.
After averaging just 3.5 points through the team's first six contests, including two scoreless performances, Rogers finally found the same form that allowed him to be such a successful weapon off the bench a season ago.
He has scored at least nine points in 14 of the past 17 contests.
Against Crowley's Ridge, he tied the school record for 3-pointers in a game, finishing 8-for-13 from downtown while tallying a career-high 28 points and four steals.
Rogers was clutch in the second half in Tech's overtime victory at Tennessee State, scoring 13 of his 15 points before leaving the contest due to injury.
In his first season of action, sophomore Savonte Frazier made the most of his opportunities, showing flashes of brilliance in limited action at the point guard position in 2015-16.
Now in his third season in Cookeville (he redshirted the 2014-15 season), Coach Payne expects Frazier to develop into one of Tech's floor generals and team leaders.
The point guard is arguably the most vocal player on the Golden Eagle roster and does a great job of inspiring teammates and helping correct problems in the moment.
Frazier has the ability to get into the paint and create shots not just for himself, but everyone around him. He is also a capable 3-point shooter and tenacious defender expected to make strides in 2016-17.
He led Tech with a career-high seven rebounds and six assists while also notching a personal-best 14 points in the team's victory over Alabama A&M.
The point guard has flirted with triple-double numbers two more times this season, posting six points, six boards and seven assists against Hiwassee College and seven points, six rebounds and a career-high nine dimes against Crowley's Ridge.
Frazier provided 20 huge minutes off the bench at Tennessee, helping Tech nearly erase a 22-point deficit by hitting 4-of-5 shots and 3-of-4 free throws for 11 points while dishing out six assists.
At Southeast Missouri, the youngster tallied 10 points, three rebounds and three assists in just 21 minutes of action, shooting 3-of-4 from the field and hitting all three free throw attempts.
The sophomore made his second career start at Tennessee State, posting career-highs with 38 minutes of action and a team-high eight rebounds. He also dished out five assists in the overtime victory.
After spending the 2015-16 season building his strength and size and working on his low post moves as a redshirt, Micaiah Henry looks poised to move into a starting role right away for the Golden Eagles.
He also comes from some familiar territory to the Golden Eagle program, hailing from Columbia High School (Ga.).
TTU legend Lorenzo Coleman, Tech's all-time leader in blocked shots also attended Columbia High School. The post also posted the most double-doubles in program history with 40 in four years.
In the season opener at Georgia Tech, Henry scored a team-high 15 points, the most by a Tech freshman since Anthony Fisher score 15 at Ole Miss on Nov. 19, 2004.
Henry's 15-point debut featured a 7-for-10 showing from the field, representing the most field goals made by a Golden Eagle freshman in their debut since Jason Harrell went 7-for-16 at South Carolina on Nov. 17, 2000 and the most without a 3-pointer since Carlos Carter finished 8-for-11 against Clinch Valley College on Dec. 1, 1992.
THE WAIT IS OVER
After sitting out the past two semesters due to NCAA rules after transferring from Campbell, Curtis Phillips Jr. made his Golden Eagle debut at Michigan State.
The junior came off the bench for 26 big minutes and scoring nine points on 4-for-6 shooting. He also grabbed three rebounds, dished out an assist and posted one steal.
In his home debut, Phillips Jr. enjoyed a strong showing from the field, finishing 5-for-6 while scoring a season-high 13 points. He also tallied three steals. He tied that mark with 13 more points against Furman.
He ranks fifth on the team in scoring, averaging 7.2 points per game while shooting 44.3 percent from the field. The wing is also averaging 3.4 rebounds.
At TSU, Phillips Jr. notched nine points, including three big free throws while playing a season-high 34 minutes.
Courtney Alexander II has one of the best role models in which to model his game after that a freshman collegiate player can have. And he lives in the same house.
His father, Courtney Alexander Sr., was the 13th overall selection by the Orlando Magic in the 2000 NBA Draft.
Courtney Sr. went on to play three seasons in the Association, including stints with Dallas, Washington and New Orleans.
He led the NCAA in scoring, averaging 24.8 points as a senior at Fresno State.
Alexander II changed the hand he shoots with for the second time in his young career. As a prep player, the forward shot primarily with his left hand, making the switch to his right during his senior season. The rookie began the transition back to his left hand last October.
The forward hauled in a season-high 10 rebounds at Michigan State, despite being limited to 22 minutes due to foul trouble.
Four Golden Eagle players can all make the trip to Cookeville from their respective hometowns in under two hours.
Junior Mason Ramsey represents the closest to home, just a 20-minute ride from nearby Livingston, Tenn.
A walk-on freshman last season, sophomore Conner Hall lives just down the road, calling Gainesboro home.
New to the crew, freshman Miles Thomas played his high school ball at South Doyle High School in Chattanooga, Tenn., a two-hour trip from the Eblen Center.
The rookie will sit out the 2016-17 season as a redshirt after coming down with mono just before the start of the year.
Colton Blevins is another freshman from the area, hailing from Jamestown, Tenn. Blevins is a hard-nosed, physical presence in the paint. He posted the team's first double-double of the season against Crowley's Ridge with 12 points and 12 rebounds.
In his first action in OVC play, Blevins hit three crucial, late free throws and grabbed four boards in four minutes in overtime to help Tech to victory at Tennessee State.
PUTTING IN THE WORK
Junior Markell Henderson didn't see large chunks of minutes in his first season in the purple and gold last year, but that is sure to change in 2016-17.
Over the summer, Henderson worked hard on improving his 3-point shooting touch and the hard work seems to have paid off. The junior guard is expected to provide another lethal option from beyond the arc for the Golden Eagles this season.
Henderson dropped a career-high 30 points on 11-for-15 shooting against Alabama A&M, including a 5-for-8 showing from the 3-point arc.
IT STARTS WITH A PHILOSOPHY
The Golden Eagle basketball team owns a philosophy that does not change from year-to-year.
Share the ball and play hard.
Be great defensively.
Know how we win. We win with great defense and an inside-out offense.
We win with high basketball IQ and low turnover totals.
This year's class also brings a special kind of chemistry and different energy level than previous teams.
The players approach everything with a willingness to learn and eagerness to get started and better every day.
JOINING THE RANKS
The Golden Eagles made just one addition for the 2017-18 season during the early signing period, but the coaching staff couldn't be more thrilled with the signee.
Joining Tech from Camden Central High School will be combo guard Hunter Vick.
In his three-year career at Camden, the guard has already scored 1,764 points in just 81 games, averaging 21.7 per game. He has also hauled in 430 rebounds, dished out 283 assists and racked up 202 steals.
His junior season totals proved staggering, as he averaged 26.9 points, 8.0 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 3.0 steals.
Photo by Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information