By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – With the 2017-18 regular season officially over, the Tennessee Tech men's basketball team will shift its focus to the Ohio Valley Conference Men's Basketball Championships Presented by VisitMyrtleBeach.com, taking place at the Ford Center in Evansville, Ind. for the first time in history.
The Golden Eagles, who have now qualified for the league tournament in three straight seasons, enter play as the No. 5 seed and will take on No. 8 seeded SIUE in a 6:30 p.m. CT tilt Wednesday evening.
Murray State will be the No. 1 seed after winning its record 25th OVC regular season championship. The Racers finished 16-2 in OVC play, are 24-5 overall and have won 11-straight games entering the postseason. Belmont, who had been the top seed each of the past two years, will be the No. 2 seed after finishing 15-3 in league play. The Bruins are 23-8 overall on the season. The Racers and Bruins each receive double byes to the semifinals of the tournament and will open play on Friday night.
Austin Peay, the 2016 tournament champions, earned the No. 3 seed while defending champion Jacksonville State will be the No. 4 seed. Both of those teams receive a single bye to Thursday's quarterfinals.
The field is rounded out No. 5 seed Tennessee Tech, No. 6 seed Tennessee State, No. 7 seed Eastern Illinois and No. 8 seed SIUE.
Since 2011 the men's bracket has used a merit-based system that gives the No. 1 and 2 seeds a double bye to the semifinals while the No. 3 and 4 seeds get a single bye to the quarterfinals. The first round will match up the No. 5/8 and No. 6/7 seeds.
#5 Tennessee Tech (18-13, 10-8) vs. #8 SIUE (9-20, 5-13)
Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018
6:30 p.m. CT
Ford Center (5,412) – Evansville, Ind.
SIUE is in its third season under the direction of head coach Jon Harris.
The 2017-18 season marks the 50th season of SIUE men's basketball. The program began with the 1967-68 season, the first of three under the late Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer Harry Gallatin.
SIUE clinched its first berth into the OVC Tournament since the 2014-15 season, earning the No. 8 seed by owning tiebreakers over Eastern Kentucky and UT Martin.
Last Thursday, Jalen Henry became the 16th player in SIUE men's basketball history to reach 1,000 points in his career, scoring 26 in a close loss to Austin Peay.
After hauling in seven rebounds in the regular season finale against Eastern Illinois, Henry sits just four away from becoming just the fifth player in program history with 1,000 points and 500 rebounds in their career. He currently ranks in a tie for 12th place all-time in scoring.
Jalen Henry is sixth in the OVC in scoring at 16.3 points. He has scored in double figures 26 times. He is ninth in the league in rebounding at 7.0 per game and is one of only four players in the OVC to appear in the top 10 in scoring and rebounding.
Henry was named OVC co-Player of the Week Jan. 8 after averaging 25.5 points over two games. He scored a career-high 35 points at Eastern Kentucky. He knocked down a career-best 13 shots, including five 3-pointers, also a career high. His 35 points are the most at SIUE since Burak Eslik scored 40 against Morehead State in January 2016 is tied for the third most in a game in program history.
David McFarland collected his first double-double (13 points, 12 rebounds) Feb. 1 against Tennessee Tech. He was OVC co-Newcomer of the Week Jan. 22 after averaging 20.0 points per game against Southeast Missouri and UT Martin. He scored a career-high 22 points at home against SEMO. He has scored in double figures in nine of his last 11 games.
This will mark the 12th meeting between the two programs all-time, with Tech owning an 8-3 advantage.
The Golden Eagles have won each of the past three meetings between the two programs, including the team's last and only meeting in the OVC Tournament, a 74-67 Tech victory at Municipal Auditorium in Nashville.
Tech edged SIUE 72-66 on New Year's Eve last season, thanks in large part to a fantastic showing by Kajon Mack. The point guard tallied 22 points and seven rebounds while hitting 4-of-6 attempts from beyond the arc.
This season, Tech held on late to earn a 68-67 victory in Edwardsville, led by a 40-minute, 18-point performance by Kajon Mack.
Shaq Calhoun recorded his first career double-double in the contest, hauling in 11 boards to go along with 16 points.
Tech (18-13) 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.
Despite falling to Jacksonville State, 66-57, in the regular season finale, Tech sits an impressive 12-4 in games decided by single digits in 2017-18, proving the veteran presence of the Golden Eagle lineup is paying off (see page 11).
For the third time this season, Tech broke the program record for percentage of assists to field goals made in a single game against Tennessee State. TTU assisted on 19 of its 22 field goals (86.4%), edging the mark set against Morehead State on Dec. 28 (24-of-28 for 85.7%). The Golden Eagles set the record in November against Boyce College (34-on-41 for 82.9%). Tech also boasted 19 assists on just 24 field goal attempts (79.2 percent) against Eastern Kentucky.
The offense soared in Clarksville for the Golden Eagles, as the team shot 53.1% from the floor, 52.6% from beyond the arc and 72.7% from the charity stripe. It marked Tech's highest field goal percentage in OVC play this season and the team's best showing from downtown since hitting at 54.5% in shootout victory at New Mexico in November. The team's 86 points were its highest output since defeating the Govs 86-74 in Cookeville in January.
The Golden Eagles are attempting 23.4 free throw attempts at home in 14 games this season as opposed to just 19.5 attempts at the line in 15 contests on the road. In the team's two neutral site match-ups, Tech attempted 20.5 free throws per game.
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.
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 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 returned 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 returned 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 13 players (11 scholarship student-athletes) representing three states and four 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.
Three Tech players were born outside the United States, all of which live in their native countries when not in Cookeville; Aleksa Jugovic from Serbia, Joan Duran from the Dominican Republic and Domen Omladič from Slovenia.
Tech has two graduate students, three seniors, two juniors, three sophomores, and three true freshmen.
Seven Golden Eagles stand 6-foot-5 or taller while the other six 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 70.5 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