By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Tech men's basketball team faces a team for the first time ever for the second time this season, playing host to Winthrop Wednesday evening in a 6:00 p.m. match-up in the Eblen Center.
Tennessee Tech (1-5) vs. Winthrop (3-3)
Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2018
6:00 p.m. CT
Eblen Center (7,500) – Cookeville, Tenn.
This marks the first-ever meeting between Tennessee Tech and Winthrop.
Not one, but two connections exist between the two teams, assistant coach Brian Kloman and director of operations Mitchell Hill.
Prior to joining Winthrop, Kloman served as an assistant coach for the Golden Eagles from 2012-14. In that time, Tech went 29-33 and 14-18 in OVC play, including a 17-16 record and four-place finish in the East Division and fifth-place ranking overall.
Mitchell Hill spent four seasons as a Golden Eagle student-athlete from 2010-14, staying in his hometown after becoming Cookeville High School's all-time leading scorer. Hill played in 43 games during his career, making three starts.
Following his career, Hill spent two seasons on staff with Tech head coach Steve Payne, serving as the team's graduate assistant manager. In those two seasons, Tech went 31-30, including a 19-12 mark and 11-5 record during the 2015-16 campaign. The Golden Eagles finished tied for second in the OVC East Division and overall.
TECH VERSUS THE BIG SOUTH
The Golden Eagles are 5-4 all-time against the current membership of the Big South Conference, including a 3-2 mark in Cookeville.
Following this match-up, Tech will have taken on six of the Big South's 11 teams. The Golden Eagles have never faced Campbell, Hampton, Longwood, Radford or USC Upstate.
In addition to facing Winthrop for the first time this season, Tech also took on Presbyterian in the first-ever meeting between the two programs on Saturday, Nov. 10 here in Cookeville. The Blue Hose defeated the Golden Eagles, 80-65.
TTU's best luck against the Big South has come against UNC Asheville, boasting a 2-1 mark all time and 2-0 record in the Eblen Center. The Golden Eagles have claimed at least one victory against four of the five Big South teams they have faced.
TECH VERSUS SOUTH CAROLINA
The Golden Eagles are 13-12 all-time against current Division I competition from the state of South Carolina, including a 6-4 mark in Cookeville.
Tech has taken on nine different schools from the Palmetto State, making Winthrop the 10th.
TTU has turned in three victories against two South Carolina programs, including Clemson (3-3) and Coastal Carolina (3-1). Tech also has at least one win against eight of the nine teams it has faced from South Carolina.
Junior guard Corey Tillery turned in the best performance of his Golden Eagle career to date against ULM, leading Tech to its first victory of the season. Tillery tied for the team lead with 20 points on 6-for-10 shooting, including a 5-for-9 showing from beyond the 3-point arc. He added four rebounds as well.
Also helping Tech to victory was redshirt freshman Hunter Vick, who tied with Tillery for the team lead in scoring with 20 points. He finished a highly efficient 8-for-12 from the floor, showing a knack for knocking down the mid-range jumper. He tallied two triples on four tries, snagged three rebounds and dished out two assists.
It marked the second 20-point outing of the year for the Camden, Tenn. native, the most by a Tech freshman since the 2009-10 season. Then-rookie Jud Dillard managed three such performances throughout the year, all coming during the conference slate of the campaign.
Junior center Micaiah Henry claimed his second double-double of the season against ULM, finishing 6-for-7 from the field on his way to 14 points. He also corralled 11 rebounds and blocked two shots.
Senior Courtney Alexander II was a man on a mission on the glass against the Warhawks, snagging 10 rebounds in the first half alone. Overall, he snagged a career-high and game-high 16 rebounds while scoring eight points, dishing out five assists and blocking two shots. His 16 boards marked the most by a Golden Eagle since Charles Jackson hauled in 17 at Eastern Kentucky on Feb. 28, 2015.
The 2018-19 schedule proves as one of the most daunting for the Golden Eagles in program history. Current preseason rankings would have it be the first season in team history where the Golden Eagles face three preseason top-10 teams. (No. 6 Tennessee, No. 8 North Carolina and No. 10 Michigan State).
Tech has faced three different top-15 teams just once 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 Thomas Corhern