By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – On the heels of a thrilling, overtime victory over SIUE, the Tennessee Tech men's basketball team will get right back to work Saturday evening, playing host to Ohio Valley Conference foe Eastern Illinois in the back half of doubleheader action with the Golden Eagle women's team. Tip is set for an approximate 7:30 p.m. CT start in the Eblen Center.
Tennessee Tech (6-10, 2-1) vs. Eastern Illinois (9-7, 2-1)
Saturday, Jan. 12, 2019
7:30 p.m. CT
Eblen Center (7,500) – Cookeville, Tenn.
This marks the 41st meeting all-time between the two programs, with Tech owning a 25-15 lead in the series.
Tech is 15-5 in the Eblen Center when facing Eastern Illinois, which include victories in the past two match-ups in Cookeville. Tech won the most recent tilt in the Hoop, a 94-84 shootout on Dec. 31, 2015.
The Panthers won last season's affair in Charleston, exploding in the second half for 50 points on their way to a 79-71 victory. Shaq Calhoun led the Golden Eagles with 23 points in the loss, sinking 6-of-8 attempts from downtown. Mack Smith erupted for 31 points for EIU, hitting 12 of his 17 shot attempts.
The Golden Eagles haven't dropped back-to-back contests against Eastern Illinois since the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons, losing two in Charleston. Tech has lost two in-a-row in Cookeville to the Panthers just once since the series began in 1981, back in the 1997-98 and 1998-99 campaigns.
Although the two teams have seen overtime just once in 40 games against each other, the two programs have combined for three extra periods so far in the 2018-19 OVC slate. Tech won the only 45-minute match-up in the series, an 83-80 decision in Charleston on Dec. 8, 2005.
Of course, the Golden Eagles enter the match-up having outlasted SIUE in overtime on Thursday, pulling away late for a 78-69 victory in the Eblen Center.
Eastern Illinois has seemingly lived in overtime this season, playing an extra session four times so far in 16 games. The Panthers are undefeated in those contests, including each of their two wins in OVC play, a 92-87 victory over UT Martin and 84-81 win over SIUE, both in Charleston.
Tech head coach Steve Payne knows a thing or two about overtime himself, owning a dazzling 8-1 mark in extra time as the head man of the Golden Eagles.
Three Golden Eagles really stepped up their games in their first OVC action in the Eblen Center this season, helping Tech to an overtime victory over SIUE. Micaiah Henry led the group, posting a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds while hitting 6-of-8 tries at the charity stripe. He set or tied career-high marks with four assists and four blocks while playing 33 minutes.
Hunter Vick toughed out 39 minutes despite taking multiple shots to his face during the contest, leading all scorers with 18 points. He also tied his season high with six rebounds and did not make a turnover. Malik Martin continued his hot start to OVC play, just missing a double-double after turning in 16 points and nine rebounds. He hit a pair of triples and dished out four assists.
With 11 points against SIUE, Jr. Clay has now recorded 12 double-digit scoring efforts this season. He is on pace to finish with 22 such games this year, a mark that would rank second all-time among Golden Eagle freshmen behind only Earl Wise's 25 in 1986-87. Only three Tech rookies have reached the 20 double-digit performance plateau; Wise with 25, Stephen Kite with 21 (1982-83) and Anthony Avery with 20 (1985-86). Rounding out the top-five is Pete Abuls with 19 (1978-79) and Marc Burnett with 17 (1977-78).
Junior big man Micaiah Henry leads the OVC in field goal percentage with at least five attempts per game, hitting 66.7 percent of his shots from the floor. He also ranks in the top-15 nationally. His current mark is within spitting distance of the highest in school history for a single season, just trailing Greg Morgan's 67.1 percent clip during the 2001-02 campaign.
Freshmen Jr. Clay and Hunter Vick are both on pace to become the first Tech rookies to average double figures in scoring since Bruce Oglesby averaged 11.5 points per game in 1990-91. They would represent the first Golden Eagle teammates to average double figures as freshmen since Pete Abuls (13.3) and Paul Chadwell (11.6) during the 1978-79 campaign. Clay's current scoring average of 12.4 points per game ranks as the fourth best in program history among freshmen.
The 2018-19 schedule has proven 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).
Those teams were ranked as follows when Tech made its visit during the non-conference slate: No. 3 Tennessee, No. 7 North Carolina and No. 11 Michigan State.
Tech faced three different top-15 teams just one other time 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 Tony Marable