By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Tech men's basketball team returns to action Sunday afternoon, playing host to Hiwassee College in a 2:00 p.m. CT tilt. The Golden Eagles enter play following a dominant 118-60 victory over Warren Wilson College Thursday evening.
Tennessee Tech (2-7) vs. Hiwassee College (6-7)
Sunday, Dec. 9, 2018
2:00 p.m. CT
Eblen Center (7,500) – Cookeville, Tenn.
This marks the sixth meeting between the two programs all-time, with Tech owning a commanding 5-0 series lead.
The Golden Eagles and Tigers share not one, not two, but three common opponents this season. The Tigers kicked off their season against Tech's last opponent, falling at home to Warren Wilson College, 92-87. The Golden Eagles cruised to a 118-60 victory over the Owls Thursday evening.
Hiwassee also clashed with Chattanooga, losing to the Mocs on the road 95-62 on Nov. 27. Tech also fell to Chattanooga on the road, dropping a 71-60 decision on Dec. 1. The Tigers will take on another common opponent on Dec. 16, facing Winthrop in Rock Hill, S.C. at 2:00 p.m. CT. Tech fell to the Eagles on Nov. 28 in Cookeville, 82-70.
Tech has faced Hiwassee twice in the Steve Payne era, earning an 87-48 victory in 2014-15 and an 80-47 win in 2016-17.
In their last match-up, it was Aleksa Jugovic who led the way for the Golden Eagles, scoring 20 points on 8-for-12 shooting, including three 3-pointers. Markell Henderson and Hakeem Rogers also tallied double figures, finishing with 12 and 11 points, respectively.
TECH VERSUS TENNESSEE
The Golden Eagles are 391-309 all-time against current Division I competition from the state of Tennessee, including a 127-187 mark on the road.
Tech has taken on each of the other 11 schools from the Volunteer State, having faced each program at least 19 times.
The most contests against an in-state foe have come against Ohio Valley Conference rival Austin Peay, a whopping total of 143. Tech owns a 74-69 advantage in the series. Tech has also squared off with Middle Tennessee 140 times, owning an 81-59 record against the former OVC rival.
Chattanooga ranks fifth on the list in total number of match-ups among the state's programs, with Tech holding the 42-18 advantage in 60 meetings.
The Golden Eagles own a winning record against all but four Tennessee squads. Tech and East Tennessee State are currently in a stalemate in their series, a record of 37-37. The only three teams to boast a winning mark against Tech are Memphis, Tennessee and Vanderbilt.
Tech will still face five schools from Tennessee this season, including Tennessee and the four members of the OVC from the Volunteer State, Austin Peay, Belmont, Tennessee State and UT Martin.
TTU will square off against Tennessee on Dec. 29 in Knoxville in a 12:00 p.m. CT tilt, the team's fourth meeting against the Vols under the direction of head coach Steve Payne.
Junior guard Corey Tillery cemented his name in the Tech record books, setting a program-record with 10 3-pointers against Warren Wilson. Prior to the game, no Golden Eagle had ever hit nine. He also set the school mark for 3-point field goal percentage in a game with at least 10 attempts, hitting 71.4 percent of his tries.
His 10 triples also tied the Ohio Valley Conference single-game record, matching the efforts of three other players before him. His performance tied him for fourth in the nation for most treys in a single game this season.
Tillery finished the contest with a Tech career-high 30 points, the first 30-point effort by a Golden Eagle since Aleksa Jugovic finished with 31 at New Mexico last season. It was the second 3-point showing of his collegiate career. He also knocked down 10 3-pointers on his way to 36 points when he was a freshman at Armstrong State.
The team's 118 points marked the most in the Steve Payne era and the most since the 1999-2000 team set the school record with 131. It also represents the fifth-highest scoring total in program history.
Defensively, the Golden Eagles held a block party in the paint, rejecting a whopping 12 shots on the night. The total marked the second-highest in program history, just one shy of tying the school record. Tech recorded 12 blocks five other times previously and 13 twice, all during the Lorenzo Coleman era (1993-97). Coleman recorded an OVC-record 439 blocks during his career.
Eleven players suited up for the purple and gold on the night, with each hauling in at least one rebound, 10 scoring at least five points, nine dishing out at least one assist, seven recording at least one steal and seven rejecting at least one shot.
Senior big man Micaiah Henry just missed a double-double on the night, finishing 9-of-13 from the floor on his way to 21 points and nine rebounds, including seven on the offensive glass. He blocked two more shots as well, moving into the top-10 all-time in program history in career rejections.
Coming off his first career OVC Freshman of the Week honors, Jr. Clay barley missed his own double-double, scoring 14 points while dishing out a career-high nine assists, the most by a Tech player since Torrance Rowe posted 12 against Southeast Missouri during the 2015-16 season. Clay corralled six rebounds and added a block and a steal.
Fellow freshman Jared Sherfield turned in his first career double-double, snagging a season-high and team-best 12 rebounds to go along with his first-double digit scoring effort of 11 points. He made three seals and collected three assists as well.
The 2018-19 schedule proves as one of the most daunting for the Golden Eagles in program history. Preseason rankings placed it as the first season in team history where the Golden Eagles faced 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