By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – Fresh off one of the best freshman campaigns in program history, Tennessee Tech point guard Jr. Clay was selected to both the Ohio Valley Conference All-Newcomer Team and the All-OVC Second Team Tuesday afternoon.
"He had a very special year," acting head coach Jason Taylor said. "He did a lot of things here that hadn't been done by a freshman in a long time. And we needed him to do a lot. [Former] Coach [Steve] Payne saw something in him that no other Division I program did. We are very proud of him. It's a great year for him individually. He's going to have a great future here and we're excited for him."
The rookie led the Golden Eagles in scoring, assists and steals, averaging 14.4 points per game, the second-highest scoring average by a Tech freshman in school history. He racked up 24 double-digit scoring efforts throughout the year, just one off the rookie record set by Earl Wise (Tech's all-time leading scorer) in 1986-87.
Clay became just the third Golden Eagle first year to lead the team in assists, averaging 4.3 per contest to rank fourth in the league. His 124 helpers throughout the year represented the second-most by a rookie in program history, ranking only behind Anthony Avery's 153 in 1985-86.
"His decision making just continued to get better and better," Taylor said. "As a freshman, with us demanding so much of him, for him to finish with a positive assist-to-turnover ratio is pretty impressive. That's the next step for him, is to make that even better; for him to become a 2-to-1 guy. He's a true point guard. For him to do that as a freshman and with as much as he had the ball in his hands, it just speaks to his feel for the game."
A native of Chattanooga, Clay's defense matured all season long, leading to a team-high 51 steals that also set a new freshman record for the program. His 1.8 takeaways per game ranked fifth in the league as well.
"I think his biggest improvement from start to finish was his defense," Taylor explained. "Everybody sees the offense, but Coach [Payne] really got him to play on the defensive side as well and he ended up leading us in steals. To do that, again, as a freshman, to have the ability to snuff things out, is impressive."
During OVC play, Clay stepped his offensive game up to another level, leading all freshman in the conference with 16.5 points per game and ranking fourth with 4.8 dimes per game. His 3-point stroke developed throughout the season as well, as he ranked second on the team with a mark of 39.4 percent from downtown.
He joined teammate and redshirt freshman, Hunter Vick, as the first pair of Tech rookies to average double figures. Vick finished second on the team at 11.2 points per game. Both freshmen broke the previous rookie record for 3-pointers made in a single season, previously held set by Kevin Murphy (38) in 2008-09. Vick tallied 54 while Clay sunk 39-of-99 tries.
"He has the attributes of a pass-first, scoring point guard," Taylor added. "Those sound like they conflict, but they really don't. You need a guy that sees the floor well enough to make the pass first, but a dude with the capability to put it in the hole. We're just happy and excited for him and his future. "
The Tech floor general turned in a career-high 26 points at Morehead State and flirted with a triple-double against Eastern Kentucky at Georgetown College, in arguably his best performance of the year. Against the Colonels, Clay turned in 22 points, tied a career-high with nine rebounds, and dished out eight assists. He finished the contest 8-for-11 from the field as well.
Clay's seven 20-point efforts during the season equaled the second-most by a Golden Eagle freshman, trailing the 12 poured in by Wise during his own rookie campaign.
Photo by Thomas Corhern