By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Tech men's basketball team ends its three-game road stretch Thursday night, playing a nationally televised contest on the road against Ohio Valley Conference foe Jacksonville State. Set for an 8:00 p.m. CT start, the game will be broadcast live on ESPNU.
Tennessee Tech (16-9, 8-4) at Jacksonville State (17-8, 8-4)
Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018
8:00 p.m. CT
Pete Mathews Coliseum (3,500) – Jacksonville, Ala.
TV: ESPNU (Taylor Zarzour & Adrian Branch)
Radio: 106.1 The Eagle (Dylan Vazzano)
Webcast: ESPN3 (Taylor Zarzour & Adrian Branch) *cable subscription required
ABOUT JACKSONVILLE STATE
Jacksonville State is in its second season under the direction of head coach Ray Harper.
Senior point guard Malcolm Drumwright currently sits third among Jacksonville State's all-time Division I scoring leaders with 1,299 career points scored. He became the 24th Gamecock to join the 1,000 Point Club earlier this season and is just 42 points behind the last Gamecock to score 1,000 points in a career, Darion Rackley.
The Gamecocks had at least one player score 20 points in six consecutive games from Jan. 11 - 27. Malcolm Drumwright scored 20 against Murray State on Jan. 11, Austin Peay on Jan. 13, EKU on Jan. 13 and UT Martin on Jan. 25, and Jason Burnell posted 20 points at Morehead State on Jan. 20. Marlon Hunter kept the streak alive Jan. 27 with a career-high 22 points against Southeast Missouri. The streak came to an end Feb. 1 as the Gamecocks' leading scorer vs. EIU totaled 17 points.
Junior Christian Cunningham has been one of the nation's top rebounders and shot-blockers for the past two seasons. The 6-foot-7 forward is already within striking distance of the program's Division I records in both categories, ranking second in each. He boasts 555 career rebounds and 146 blocks.
Cunningham recorded his seventh double-double of the season and 14th of his career Feb. 1 with 12 points and 10 rebounds at Eastern Illinois. He now ranks 66th in the nation for most double-doubles.
This will mark the 34th meeting between the two programs all-time, with Tech owning a 21-12 advantage.
The Golden Eagles have won four of the past five and seven of the past nine match-ups between the two programs, including each of the past two.
Tech has won three of the past four and seven of the last nine contests between the two teams, including each of the past two match-ups in Jacksonville.
The two teams split the season series last year, with the Gamecocks earning a 74-59 win in Cookeville.
The Golden Eagles returned the favor in Jacksonville, earning a 79-78 victory in overtime thanks to heroics from Mack and Aleksa Jugovic.
Mack made back-to-back steals and layups in the final 40 seconds to send the game to overtime while Jugovic hit the game-winning free throws with less than two seconds to play.
Rogers scored a team-high 20 points while Mack added 18 and Jugovic scored 17. Micaiah Henry added 12 points off the bench in 21 minutes.
In both tonight's and Saturday's contests, the Golden Eagle coaching staff will don Autism Speaks puzzle piece pins to help increase the awareness of autism and support the 1 in 68 children on the autsim spectrum. Autism Speaks Coaches Powering Forward was created in 2014 after NCAA coaches Pat Skerry and Tom Herrion embarked on a mission to raise awareness of autism.
Tech (16-8) 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.
The Golden Eagles showed off the kind of ball movement that ranked them first in the OVC against Morehead State. Tech's 24 assists on 28 field goals (85.7 percent) broke the school record for percentage of assists to field goals made in a single game set earlier this season against Boyce College (34-on-41 for 82.9 percent). Tech added 19 more assists on just 24 field goal attempts (79.2 percent) against Eastern Kentucky.
Despite its 79-71 loss at Eastern Illinois, Tech still sits an impressive 10-2 in games decided by single digits in 2017-18, proving the veteran presence of the Golden Eagle lineup is paying off (see page 11).
After receiving 22 points of scoring from its bench against Southeast Missouri, the Golden Eagles are now 9-2 on the year when the bench scores at least 21 points. The two losses? A five-point defeat at a one-loss Central Michigan squad and the team's loss at Indiana.
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 23.8 free throw attempts at home in 11 games this season as opposed to just 18.4 attempts at the line in 14 contests away from the Eblen Center.
With wins over Omaha and Maryland Eastern Shore to take the Emerald Coast Classic title, 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.
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 70.5 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 games, including 15 for the women and 14 for the men.
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.
Photo by Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information