By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Tech men's basketball team hits the road to wrap up the 2018-19 campaign, beginning with a visit to Ohio Valley Conference foe SIUE. Tech will take on the Cougars for the second time season, matching up at the Vadalabene Center in a 7:30 p.m. CT tilt.
Tennessee Tech (7-22, 3-13) at SIUE (9-19, 5-11)
Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019
7:30 p.m. CT
Vadalabene Center (4,000) – Edwardsville, Ill.
This marks the 14th meeting all-time between the two programs, with Tech owning a 10-3 lead in the series.
The Golden Eagles have won each of the past five meetings between the two programs, including both match-ups last season and this season's earlier tilt. Tech faced the Cougars in the regular season in Edwardsville before squaring off again in Evansville in the first round of the OVC Tournament last year.
The purple and gold are 3-3 all-time against SIUE when visiting the Vadalabene Center, capturing victories in each of the past two contests in Edwardsville.
Tech claimed a close, 68-67 victory at the Vadalabene Center last season, holding on late as a Cougar desperation 3-pointer fell short at the buzzer.
Kajon Mack led the Golden Eagles in the contest, scoring 18 points with four boards and five assists. Shaq Calhoun recorded a double-double with 16 points and 11 rebounds. Mason Ramsey added 11 points and seven boards.
Tech didn't see the Cougars again until the first round of the OVC Tournament in Evansville, dispatching SIUE 60-51 to advance to the quarterfinals against Jacksonville State.
It was Ramsey leading the Tech attack in the contest, posting 19 points. Kajon Mack chalked up a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds. Courtney Alexander II snagged 10 boards as well with seven points.
Earlier this season, the Golden Eagles held off the Cougars in overtime, taking over in the extra period for a 78-69 victory in Cookeville. Four Golden Eagle starters scored in double figures, led by redshirt freshman Hunter Vick's 18. He added six rebounds.
Malik Martin chipped in 16 points and nine rebounds while Micaiah Henry earned a double-double with 14 points and 10 boards. Henry also blocked four shots. Jr. Clay scored 11 points with five assists before leaving the contest with an injury.
Freshman Jared Sherfield turned in his second consecutive eyebrow-raising performance, pouring in a career-high 20 points against Morehead State. Making his first career start, the rookie finished 7-for-9 from the field, 4-for-5 from beyond the arc, snagged a team-high seven rebounds, dished out three assists and did record a turnover in 35 minutes of play.
For the week, Sherfield averaged 19.5 points and 7.5 rebounds per game while shooting 13-of-19 from the field and 6-of-9 from 3-point range. He increased his season scoring average from 3.2 points per game to 4.3 in just two games.
Jr. Clay and Hunter Vick both joined Sherfield in double figures, with Clay scoring 15. He also added five rebounds and seven assists. Vick tallied 10 points while racking up five boards, four dimes, three blocks and a steal. With Sherfield's 20-point showing, this year's freshman class represent the first in program history with three players to post 20 points in at least one game.
Vick just missed out on tying the Tech program record for consecutive free throws made against Eastern Kentucky, finishing 7-for-8 at the line. He made his first six of the contest, totaling 28 straight converted freebies, just two shy of the school mark of 30 held by Jud Dillard (2012-13) and Maurice Houston (1993-94). Greg Bibb made 29 straight during the 1994-95 campaign.
After rejecting two more shots against Eastern Kentucky, junior big man Micaiah Henry remained in fifth place on Tech's all-time career records list for blocks with 109. He became just the fifth player in program history to block at least 100 shots in his career in Tech's contest at Southeast Missouri. He needs two rejections to pass Anthony Morse (2012-16) and move into fourth place.
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 14.4 points per game ranks as the second best in program history among freshmen. Vick currently averages 11.1 points per game.
With 15 points against Morehead State, Clay has now recorded 22 double-digit scoring efforts this season, the second most in program history among Golden Eagle freshmen behind only Earl Wise's 25 in 1986-87. Against Belmont, he became just the fourth Tech rookie to reach the 20 double-digit performance plateau, joining Wise with 25, Stephen Kite with 21 (1982-83) and Anthony Avery with 20 (1985-86).
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 Thomas Corhern