By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Tech men's basketball team heads to Niceville, Fla. for the bracket portion of the Emerald Coast Classic, taking on Omaha at 11 a.m. CT.
Tennessee Tech (4-1) vs. Omaha (0-5)
Friday, Nov. 24, 2017
11:00 a.m. CT
The Arena (2,196) – Northwest Florida State, Niceville, Fla.
Radio: 106.1 The Eagle (Roger Ealey)
Webcast: Emerald Coast TV (No audio, fans encouraged to listen on 106.1 The Eagle while watching video feed)
Omaha is in its 13th season under the direction of head coach Derrin Hansen. He needs just three wins to reach 200 career victories.
Three Mavericks are averaging double-figure scoring: Zach Jackson (16.8 ppg), Daniel Norl (16.5 ppg) and Mitch Hahn (13.7 ppg). Jackson and Norl have hit double digits in all four games this season.
Omaha ranks sixth nationally for total steals (42) and 15th for steals per game (10.5).
The Mavericks came a shot shy of its first NCAA Tournament bid in the Division I era last season, falling 79-77 to South Dakota State in the Summit League Championship. Omaha finshed 18-14 (9-7 Summit League) en route to their second straight third-place finish in the regular-season standings.
The Mavericks return seven letterwinners from its 2016-17 squad, including a Summit League All-Newcomer pick in Hahn.
Omaha has had at least one scorer tally 20+ points in 18 of its last 21 games dating back to Jan. 4, 2017.
The Mavericks went 7-6 in non-conference play in 2016-17, marking its fourth straight season finishing .500 or better against non-conference opponents.
Omaha plays 18 of its 30 games on the road in 2017-18, including seven straight to open the season while its home facility, Baxter Arena, plays host to the U.S. Olympic Curling Trials. The Mavericks begin with three games in one continuous seven-day trip at Montana State (Nov. 10), Oklahoma (Nov. 12) and New Mexico (Nov. 14). Following a short return home, they set out again for Louisville (Nov. 17), and after another short trip back to Omaha, visit TCU (Nov. 20). A Thanksgiving trip to Niceville, Fla., caps it off with two games in the Emerald Coast Classic, Nov. 24-25.
The Mavericks face three teams with NCAA Final Four appearances on their resumes in the last decade. Oklahoma last made the Final Four in 2016, while Kansas went in 2012 and 2008, and Louisville earned a trip in 2012 and 2013.
Six of the Mavericks' 2017-18 opponents have earned at least one NCAA Tournament berth over the last four years: Kansas (2014, 2015, 2016, 2017), Louisville (2014, 2015, 2017), Oklahoma (2014, 2015, 2016), North Dakota State (2014, 2015), South Dakota State (2016, 2017) and New Mexico (2014).
This will mark the first meeting between Tech and Omaha in program history.
TECH VERSUS THE SUMMIT LEAGUE
The Golden Eagles are 4-5 all-time against the current membership of the Mountain West Conference.
Tech has faced just three of the Summit League's eight current teams, including Fort Wayne (0-1), North Dakota State (0-1) and Oral Roberts (2-4).
The Golden Eagles' most recent contest against the Summit League came back on Nov. 17, 2013 at the Holiday Inn Downtown Marina Islanders Basketball Tournament hosted by Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. The Mastodons defeated Tech 69-66 to win the tournament.
EMERALD COAST CLASSIC
Friday's contest represents the third game for both teams as part of the Emerald Coast Classic and first as part of the bracket portion. Tech's contests against TCU and New Mexico were the first two in the event.
Tech will take on either Jackson State or Maryland Eastern Shore on Nov. 25.
The two contests over Thanksgiving will take place at The Arena at Northwest Florida State College in Niceville, Fla.
LAST MEETING WITH JACKSON STATE
The Golden Eagles kept their non-conference home win streak alive with their 10th straight victory, an 86-82 overtime win over Jackson State.
Tech trailed by as much as 10 points with under four minutes to play in the second half, rallying to send the game to an extra period behind a last-second layup by Torrance Rowe.
Jackson State out-rebounded the Golden Eagles 56-40, including an astonshing 28-8 advantage on the offensive glass, but Tech owned overtime on the boards, pulling down seven to the Tigers' two.
The Tigers were whistled for 32 fouls, allowing Tech to attempt 45 free throws. The Golden Eagles converted on 37 of them, the most by a TTU squad since 2007.
After dropping a career-high 35 points, including a 15-for-17 showing at the line, Torrance Rowe became the first Golden Eagle to score 35 since Kevin Murphy set the program-record with 50 in 2012.
TECH VERSUS THE SWAC
The Golden Eagles are 8-3 all-time against the current membership of the Southwestern Athletic Conference.
Tech has faced all but three of the SWAC's 10 current teams, needing to only take on Grambling State, Prairie View A&M and Arkansas-Pine Bluff for the first time.
The Golden Eagles took on two members of the SWAC last season in a total of three games.
Tech took on Alabama A&M twice on the year, cruising to a 95-61 win in Cookeville before edging the Bulldogs in Huntsville, 79-74.
The Golden Eagles fell in their first-ever contest against Southern, losing in Baton Rouge, 80-68.
MARYLAND EASTERN SHORE SERIES NOTES
This would mark the first meeting between Tech and Maryland Eastern Shore in program history.
Should the Golden Eagles and Hawks meet, it would mark Tech's fifth contest against a first-time opponent this season in seven games, the most such games in over a decade.
TECH VERSUS THE MEAC
The Golden Eagles are 4-2 all-time against the current membership of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.
Tech has faced just four of the MEAC's 13 current teams, including Bethune-Cookman (1-0), Florida A&M (2-0), North Carolina Central (0-1) and South Carolina State (1-1).
The Golden Eagles' most recent match-up against a MEAC opponent came back on Dec. 23, 2012 at the Las Vegas Classic.
Tech faced off against Bethune-Cookman in the tournament's championship game, defeating the Wildcats, 67-59, to claim the title.
The Golden Eagles defeated Kennesaw State in the first round of the tournament, 81-68.
Maryland Eastern Shore head coach Bobby Collins played at Ohio Valley Conference rival Eastern Kentucky from 1987-91, starting all four seasons with the Colonels.
Collins earned a spot on the OVC All-Freshman Team and on the All-OVC Honorable Mention Team as a senior.
TECH PICKED 5TH IN OVC EAST
Tech was predicted to finish fifth overall in the 2018 OVC race in voting by the league's head coaches and SIDs.
The 2017-18 Tech roster features 14 players (12 scholarship student-athletes) representing three states and five countries.
Five Golden Eagle players hail from the state Tennessee, while Georgia boasts a total of four Tech players. California represents home for one player.
Four Tech players were born outside the United States, all of which live in their native countries when not in Cookeville; Aleksa Jugovic from Serbia, Stephaun Adams from the U.S. Virgin Islands, Joan Duran from the Dominican Republic and Domen Omladič from Slovenia.
Tech has two graduate students, three seniors, three juniors, three sophomores, and three true freshmen.
Seven Golden Eagles stand 6-foot-5 or taller while the other seven measure in at 6-foot-4 or shorter.
DON'T SELL EXPERIENCE SHORT
Tech boasts arguably the most experienced team in the OVC entering the 2017-18 season, returning a whopping 77.3 percent of its minutes played from just a season ago. That mark ranks first in the league by over 10 percent (Eastern Kentucky returns 66.6 percent).
The Golden Eagles also return 71 percent of its scoring from the 2016-17 squad, ranking only behind the Colonels' 75.7 percent. Only Tech, Eastern Kentucky and Murray State return both of their respective top-two scorers, with TTU's Aleksa Jugovic and Kajon Mack combining for 27.0 ppg, EKU's Nick Mayo and Asante Gist totaling 34.4 ppg and MSU's Jonathan Stark and Terrell Miller teaming up for 37.9 ppg.
Aside from the Golden Eagles, only Eastern Illinois and Eastern Kentucky return at least four of their top-five scorers from last season. Tech will return six of its top-seven scorers from the 2016-17 campaign.
40TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE HOOP
Originally opened back in 1977, the Hooper Eblen Center was named for former athlete, head coach and administrator Hooper Eblen, who served the university for 33 years and was instrumental in planning the football stadium and basketball arena. This season, "The Hoop" – or as it was once known, "The Temple of Doom" – will celebrate its 40th season since opening for the TTU Invitational Volleyball Tournament on Sept. 20, 1977.
The Tech men's team hosted the first basketball game in the Eblen Center, earning a 72-71 victory over in-state foe Vanderbilt on Nov. 26, 1977.
The Tech men have enjoyed a home court advantage since the opening of The Hoop, boasting a win percentage of 70.1 in the Eblen Center. From Dec. 2, 2000 to Jan. 4, 2003, did not lose a game in the facility, amassing 33 straight victories for the longest home win streak in program history.
During its 40th anniversary, The Hoop will play host to 29 total basketball games, including 15 for the women and 14 for the men.
GIVE ME SOME SUGAR
After averaging 5.8 points as a freshman and 12.1 points as a sophomore, senior guard Aleksa Jugovic continued his upward trend by averaging a team-high 15.2 points per game last season. The slick shooting Serb became the 36th member of the Golden Eagles' 1,000-point club last year and currently ranks 29th on the all-time scoring list with 1,071 points.
Fans can follow Jugovic on Twitter under his handle/nickname @Serbian_Sugar. The moniker, originally developed by current assistant coach and previous 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.
For the second straight year, Jugovic earned a place on the Preseason All-OVC Team, entering 2017-18 as the league's fifth-leading returning scorer and second-most active 3-point shooter, hitting 2.6 treys per game last year. He also earned a place on Lindy's Sports Preseason All-OVC First Team and College Sports Madness' Preseason All-OVC Second Team.
Additionally, Jugovic led the OVC and ranked 10th nationally in free throw shooting, hitting 90.8 percent of his attempts from the charity stripe, the third-highest showing in school history. He currently ranks second all-time in Golden Eagle history in career free throw percentage, converting an 86.7 rate.
A deadly 3-point sniper, Jugovic needs just 50 triples to break former Golden Eagle Frank Davis' all-time program record of 251 made 3-pointers. The senior knocked down 71 treys as a sophomore and 82 more as a junior. He currently has 18 on the year.
Jugovic went bananas in The Pit at New Mexico, finishing 11-for-12 from the field and a perfect, school-record setting 7-for-7 from downtown on his way to a career-high 31 points.
Fans can follow Jugovic's chase for several career marks on page 11.
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 four 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.
After redshirting 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.
Ramsey saw an uptick in his performance during OVC play in 2016-17, averaging 10.9 points and 5.3 rebounds (or about 1.5 more points and nearly a full rebound more) during the league stretch. He notched a career-high in scoring twice during that span while dropping double-digit points in over half of the contests.
While technically still a senior in eligibility, Ramsey represents the third graduate student on the team in 2017-18. The veteran earned his bachelor's degree in finance in May and is currently working on his master's in business administration.
THE TRANSFER EFFECT
Three members of the 2017-18 roster are Division I transfers while a fourth is a Division II transfer. Graduate student Kajon Mack and senior Curtis Phillips Jr. both made their debut last season with much success. Graduate transfer Shaq Calhoun and Division II transfer Corey Tillery are both immediately eligible for the 2017-18 season and expected to contribute right away.
THAT MACK ATTACK
Graduate guard Kajon Mack earned a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA after missing two seasons due to injury while previously playing at Tulane.
The combo guard was a do-everything player for Tech in 2017-18, leading the team in rebounding, assists and steals while ranking second in scoring. He averaged 11.8 points, 5.0 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.3 steals.
With his performance, Mack became the first Golden Eagle in program history to lead the team in both rebounding and assists in a single season.
The Los Angeles native flirted with triple-doubles three times last season, putting up 18 points, six assists and eight rebounds against Central Michigan (Nov. 14), 14 points, seven assists and seven rebounds at Ohio and 24 points, six assists and 12 rebounds against Belmont.
He showed a knack for making big plays and putting up big performances in the most important games of the season for Tech as well. He posted his first career double-double (career-highs of 24 pts and 12 reb) while helping the Golden Eagles hand Belmont its only OVC loss of 2017-18.
Mack followed it up with back-to-back steals and layups in the final 35 seconds in regulation of TTU's crucial overtime victory at Jacksonville State to help clinch a tournament berth.
In Tech's OVC Tournament contest against Murray State, it was Mack's dunk with less than two second on the clock that tied the game and sent it to overtime. He put the team on his back, scoring all nine points in the first overtime period to send it to double OT.
After spending the 2015-16 season building his strength and size and working on his low post moves as a redshirt, Micaiah Henry showed improvement down on the block for the Golden Eagles in 2017-18.
The youngster has shown improvement since his arrival on campus, possessing a knack for blocking shots. 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.
Last season, Henry rejected the second-most shots by a Golden Eagle freshman in school history, sending back 39 attempts. That number ranked only behind Coleman's 85 blocks in 1993-94. The four-year man finished with 439 career rejections, ranking third in NCAA history at the end of his career.
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.
WORTH THE WAIT
After sitting out the second semester of 2015-16 and the first 10 games of last season due to NCAA transfer rules, Curtis Phillips Jr. made his time on the court count, ranking fifth on the team in scoring and fourth in rebounding.
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.
The wing finished strong for Tech in 2017-18, scoring in double figures in five of his final seven games, including posting his second career double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds in the OVC Tournament.
Phillips Jr. filled the stats sheet against Kennesaw State, scoring 21 points, snagging eight rebounds, dishing out five assists, tallying three steals and blocking two shots.
At New Mexico, he dropped his second straight 20-point performance, posting 16 second-half points on his way to a Tech-career-high 23.
AT LONG LAST
Golden Eagle fans have been waiting for years to see Shaq Calhoun take up the purple and gold, but the wait is finally over. After originally committing to Tech out of Model High School in Georgia, Calhoun ended up at Iowa Western Community College for two seasons, sitting out his sophomore year with an injury.
Originally recruited by both Coach Payne and former TTU assistant coach Russ Willemsen, Calhoun joined Willemsen at South Alabama for the next two seasons. At long last, he makes his long awaited return to Cookeville as a graduate transfer.
Calhoun averaged 8.5 points and 2.3 rebound per game while tallying 88 steals in 65 games while as USA. The 6-foot-4 guard adds size and scoring ability to the Tech lineup, not to mention another veteran presence.
The graduate transfer showed off his scoring ability against Boyce College, pouring in 20 points in 21 minutes on a red-hot 8-of-9 shooting from the floor.
Sophomore guard Corey Tillery joins the Golden Eagles from the Division II ranks and is immediately eligible to play for Tech after Armstrong State shut down its athletic program while preparing to dissolve into Georgia Southern University.
The sharpshooter left ASU the program's leading scorer last season, averaging 18.4 points per game on his way to Peach Belt Conference Freshman of the Year honors. He hit an impressive 42.7 percent of his 227 attempts from beyond the arc last season while also firing at an 86.0 percent clip from the charity stripe.
Two Golden Eagle players can make the trip to Cookeville from their respective home towns in about 20 minutes, just outside of shouting distance.
Senior Mason Ramsey hails from nearby Livingston, Tenn., just 20 miles north of Cookeville.
Sophomore junior college transfer Cade Crosland calls Sparta, Tenn. home, a less-than 20-mile trip south of Cookeville.
Courtney Alexander II has one of the best role models in which to model his game after that a 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.
In college, he led the NCAA in scoring with 24.8 points per game 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 junior transitioned back to his left hand as a freshman at Tech.
A player that struggles to connect at the free throw line (he owns a career free throw percentage of .345 heading into the season), Alexander II will shoot his attempts at the charity stripe underhanded à la Rick Barry.
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 three additions for the 2018-19 season during the early signing period, all from the state Tennessee.
Joining Tech from Van Buren County High School will be scoring guard Caden Mills.
Already a 2,000-point scorer, Milles averaged 26.0 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game as a junior.
Mills led VBCHS to a 28-5 record and third straight appearance to the TSSAA state tournament last season.
Joining Tech from Arlington High School will be forward Garrett Golday.
The 6-foot-7 signee averaged a double-double as a junior, with 19 points and 10 rebounds per game. He also added five blocks per game.
Golday led AHS to a District 14-AAA regular season title and earned All-Metro and All-Region honors.
Joining Tech from McCallie High School will be point guard Jr. Clay.
Boasting great speed, Clay averaged 13.8 points, 4.0 assists and 2.5 steals per game while leading MHS to an appearance in the state championship game.
Clay was named a finalist for the TSSAA Division II-AA Mr. Basketball Award and took home multiple postseason honors.
AFTER EMERLAD COAST CLASSIC
Following the Emerald Coast Classic, the Golden Eagles head back to Cookeville and the comfort of the Eblen Center for an in-state match-up with Lipscomb at 6 p.m. CT on Wednesday, Nov. 29.
Lipscomb is in its fifth season under the direction of head coach Casey Alexander.
Junior guard Garrison Mathews was named the ASUN Conference Player of the Week last Monday for his play in the first two games. The Franklin, Tennessee native averaged 31 points per game and hit 53.3 percent of his attempts beyond the arc. He also made 31 trips to the charity stripe, were he sank 22.
Mathews entered Monday's contest ranked tied for 25th nationally in scoring with a 23.5 ppg average. That figure ranked ninth among juniors. He had scored in double figures in 18 straight contests prior to the Abilene Christian match-up and has in 32 of the last 34 contests for the Bisons. He led the nation in free throw attempts (47) and ranked third in free throws made (34).
After opening the schedule with the first two games at home, the Bisons are in the midst of a six-game road swing and will not return to Don Meyer Court until Dec.4 when rival Belmont comes to campus.
Lipscomb was predicted to post a second-place finish in the 2017-18 ASUN Conference race by a vote of the league's skippers and the league's media members.
Mathews and Rob Marberry were both unanimous selections to the preseason All-ASUN team. The duo was also named All-ASUN by Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook.
Mathews was also named to the 2017-18 Lou Henson Award Watch List last week becoming the second Lipscomb player to receive the honor. The award is handed out annually to the nation's top mid-major player. The Franklin native was also named an honorable mention mid-major All-American by NBC Sports' College Basketball Talk.
The Purple and Gold return 81 percent of the offense from last year's squad that was ninth-best in the nation averaging 85.0 points per game. Lipscomb also returns 85 percent of assists from a year ago when the Bisons ranked third in the country with an 18.2 per game average.
Lipscomb finished the 2016-17 ranked sixth in the nation for 3-pt FG made. Mathews and senior Nathan Moran were a big reason for that effort as the duo combined for 179 trifectas. That figure ranks third in the nation among returners this season trailing Montana State (190) and Campbell (185).
This will mark the 50th meeting between the two programs all-time, with the Golden Eagles holding a decisive, 41-9 advantage.
Lipscomb captured both of last season's match-ups, defeating Tech 104-85 in Nashville before hitting a buzzer-beating 3-pointer in an 81-79 win in Cookeville.
In the first contest, the two teams combined for 67 fouls and, in the opening 94 seconds of the second half, 12 fouls were called, including an inexplicable nine on the Golden Eagles.
Tech would go on to finish with 38 fouls in the contest, with five players fouling out to leave just six players on the bench, two of which tallied four fouls on the night.
Both tied program records for highest total of personal fouls and foul outs by a Golden Eagle team, making it nearly impossible to ever truly get an offensive flow going.
TECH VERSUS THE A-SUN
Tech is 51-18 all-time against the current membership of the Atlantic Sun Conference.
Tech has only faced three other members of the A-Sun, including Jacksonville (2-4 all-time), North Florida (2-0), and Stetson (6-5).
Photo by Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information