By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Tech men's basketball team kicks off Ohio Valley Conference play and the new 18-game format in the league with a 7:30 p.m. CT contest against Morehead State Thursday, Dec. 28.
The Golden Eagles stay in the Eblen Center to host Eastern Kentucky Saturday evening in a nationally televised contest on CBS Sports Network at 6 p.m.
The contest represents Upper Cumberland Night, providing all fans with an Upper Cumberland address on their identification with $1 admission. It will also be Youth Basketball Night, allowing any child wearing their basketball uniform to receive free admission.
Tennessee Tech (8-5) vs. Morehead State (4-7)
Thursday, Dec. 28, 2017
7:30 p.m. CT
Eblen Center (7,500) – Cookeville, Tenn.
Radio: 106.1 The Eagle (Dylan Vazzano)
Webcast: OVC Digital Network (Dylan Vazzano)
ABOUT MOREHEAD STATE
Morehead State is in its second season under the direction of head coach Preston Spradlin.
MSU once again ranks in the top two in the OVC in rebounding as the Eagles average 38.5 boards per game. In the four games prior to the Butler contest, the Eagles averaged 46.7 rebounds per outing with two 50+ efforts.
The Morehead State men have either led the Ohio Valley Conference or ranked second in rebounding margin now in 11 consecutive seasons, and that trend looks promising again this season after the Eagles outboarded Alice Lloyd 62-18 and KCU 50-27. They are currently third in the conference and 67th nationally at plus-5.5.
MSU ranks second in the OVC in offensive rebounds and ranks 38th in the nation in offensive boards at 12.8 per outing. The Eagles have recorded double-digit offensive rebounds in all but two games (one of which was a nine-rebound day at Central Arkansas).
Morehead State is averaging 4.0 blocked shots per outing, and that ranks third among all OVC schools so far in 2017-18. The Eagles have notched six or more blocks four times.
Since 2008-09, Morehead State has had five 20-win campaigns and made five postseason appearances (2 NCAA, 3 CBI). The Eagles advanced to the championship series of the CBI in 2015-16, taking Nevada to the final game of the three-game set before falling.
This will mark the 149th meeting between the two programs all-time, with Morehead State owning an 83-65 series lead.
The series marks the second-longest in Tech history, with the Golden Eagles' rivalry with Murray State the only one with more contests (180).
Morehead State has won six of the past seven contests, with the two sides splitting their match-ups in 2017-18.
Tech won in Cookeville on Jan. 26, 76-73. The Eagles edged TTU in Morehead on Feb. 23, 73-68.
The Golden Eagles currently rank second in the OVC in scoring, averaging 81.5 points per game. The last time a Tech squad eclipsed the 80-point mark against MSU was a 91-84 victory in Morehead, Mar. 1, 2014.
Jugovic torched the nets in Cookeville last season in the series, scoring 25 points with five triples and a perfect 8-for-8 showing at the stripe.
Tennessee Tech (8-5) vs. Eastern Kentucky (6-7)
Saturday, Dec. 30, 2017
6:00 p.m. CT
Eblen Center (7,500) – Cookeville, Tenn.
TV: CBS Sports Network (Ben Holden & Tim Doyle)
Radio: 106.1 The Eagle (Roger Ealey)
ABOUT EASTERN KENTUCKY
Eastern Kentucky is in its third season under the direction of head coach Dan McHale.
EKU shot a season-high 52.7% from the field in its 83-66 win over Norfolk State on Dec. 18. The Colonels also matched season highs in 3-pointers made (10) and assists (20) in the win.
Senior Zach Charles scored a season-high 10 points against Charleston Southern on Dec. 15. EKU is 7-3 all-time when Charles scores in double figures.
EKU forced Charleston Southern into 16 turnovers and recorded a season-best 10 steals in the win over the Buccaneers on Dec. 15.
The Colonels rallied from seven down in the second half to beat Charleston Southern, 70-65, on Dec. 15 in Charleston. EKU held Charleston Southern scoreless over the final 4:57 (and without a field goal over the final 9:37) of the game to score the come-from behind victory.
As of Dec. 21, freshman Dedric Boyd ranks second in the OVC in free throw percentage at 87.0% (40-of-46).
Sophomore DeAndre Dishman scored 12 points in the win over Norfolk State on Dec. 18. As of Dec. 21, Dishman ranks second in the OVC in field goal percentage at 59.4% (38-of-64).
This will mark the 135th meeting between the two programs all-time, with Eastern Kentucky owning a 74-60 series lead.
The series marks the fifth-longest in Tech history, boasting more than 100 contests between the two teams.
Tech and EKU has split the previous 12 meetings, with each side winning six times. The Colonels won both meetings last season.
In Cookeville, EKU defated Tech 79-66 on Jan. 28. In the return trip to Richmond, the Colonels edged the Golden Eagles 75-71 on Feb. 25.
The Golden Eagles lead the series when in Cookeville, 37-29, winning three of the past four games in the Eblen Center.
Aleksa Jugovic paced Tech with 18 points in the loss in Cookeville last season, finishing 8-of-8 from the charity stripe.
Tech (8-5) is off to its best start since the 2015-16 season. The Golden Eagles finished 19-12 that season, including an 11-5 mark and second-place finish in the Ohio Valley Conference East Division. It also marked the program's most recent postseason berth, a bid into the Vegas16 Tournament.
After receiving 25 points of scoring from its bench against Chattanooga, the Golden Eagles are now a perfect 6-0 on the year when the bench scores at least 24 points.
With a 7-1 start to the season, the Golden Eagles completed their most successful month of November in program history. No Tech squad had won more than five games in November prior to this season.
The Golden Eagles are attempting 26.6 free throw attempts at home in five games this season as opposed to just 18.7 attempts at the line in seven contests away from the Eblen Center.
With wins over Omaha and Maryland Eastern Shore to take the Emerald Coast Classic tilte, Tech won its first early season tournament since claiming the the Las Vegas Classic back during the 2005-06 season.
Tech was predicted to finish fifth overall in the 2018 OVC race in voting by the league's head coaches and SIDs.
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.
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.
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 20th on the all-time scoring list with 1,213 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.
A deadly 3-point sniper, Jugovic needs just 35 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 33 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
Henry enters OVC play with momentum, having scored in double figures in back-to-back games for the first time in his career. He is shooting 11-for-15 while averaging 12.0 points and 4.0 rebounds per game in that span.
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.
Photo by Tony Marable