By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Tech men's basketball team will wrap up its three-game road stretch Saturday evening, taking on Ohio Valley Conference rival Eastern Kentucky in a neutral site match-up. The two teams will square off in a 6:00 p.m. CT affair, contested at Georgetown College in Georgetown, Ky.
Tennessee Tech (6-14, 2-5) at Eastern Kentucky (10-10, 3-4)
Saturday, Jan. 26, 2019
6:00 p.m. CT
Davis-Reid Alumni Gym (2,500) – Georgetown, Ky. (Georgetown College)
This marks the 137th meeting all-time between the two programs, with Eastern Kentucky owning a 74-62 lead in the series. The Colonels also own a 2-0 series lead over Tech when playing at a neutral site and a 43-24 advantage when playing Richmond.
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.
The Golden Eagles last faced the Colonels in a neutral location back during the 2006-07 season, falling to EKU 57-54 in the OVC Tournament in Nashville. Tech also fell to EKU, 72-67, in the OVC Tournament during the 1991-92 season, playing in Lexington, Ky. This will mark the first regular-season neutral site match-up between the two programs.
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.
Freshman Jr. Clay broke out for his best performance in the purple and gold at Morehead State, scoring a career-high 26 points in his first start since Jan. 10 after missing two games due to injury and coming off the bench in the team's previous contest. The point guard established new career marks with 39 minutes of action and three makes from downtown. He also led Tech with five assists and two steals while making just one turnover.
After rejecting two shots at Morehead State, Henry ranks in sixth place on Tech's all-time career records list for blocks with 95. He needs just four to pass Bassey Inameti (2007-12) and move into fifth place. He requires five to become just the fifth player in program history to block at least 100 shots in his career.
Henry leads the OVC in field goal percentage with at least five attempts per game, hitting 63.8 percent of his shots from the floor. His current mark would rank sixth in school history for a single season. Greg Morgan's 67.1 percent clip during the 2001-02 campaign and Alfred Jones' 66.7 percent showing in 2009-10 rank first and second, respectively.
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 13.0 points per game ranks as the third best in program history among freshmen.
With 26 points at Morehead State, Jr. Clay has now recorded 13 double-digit scoring efforts this season. He is on pace to finish with 21 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. Only three Tech rookies have reached the 20 double-digit performance plateau; Wise with 25, Stephen Kite with 21 (1982-83) and Anthony Avery with 20 (1985-86). Rounding out the top-five is Pete Abuls with 19 (1978-79) and Marc Burnett with 17 (1977-78).
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