By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – Fans chomping at the bit to get a taste of the newest chapter of Tennessee Tech men's basketball can begin making plans on when and where they will take in the new, exciting brand of Golden Eagle basketball set to hit the hardwood this winter.
New head coach John Pelphrey officially released the 2019-20 schedule awaiting his squad in his inaugural season in Cookeville, a slate ripe with both challenges and opportunities. And with a very young roster featuring 11 underclassmen, those opportunities and challenges become that much more important in the development of the team as the year progresses.
"I think when you look at our upcoming schedule, it provides a lot of challenges, both on the road and here at home," Pelphrey said. "There will be a lot of opportunities for us to learn, grow, get better and figure out who we are and what type of team we want to be.
"The most important thing for our players is to focus on their development as leaders, get better as basketball players every day and establish a competitive standard, which we are going to have to play to in order to compete against good teams like the ones on our schedule. The best way for them to do that is by sticking to the 'The Code'. 'The Code' is a mental mindset process that consists of three steps. One: know your role and the responsibilities of your job. Two: Give maximum effort. Three: Keep a great attitude."
The Golden Eagles will get a tune-up prior to the first official contest of the season, playing host to Bryan College on Oct. 29 in an exhibition affair in the Hooper Eblen Center.
Tech will then hit the road to open up the 2019-20 season and John Pelphrey era, visiting former rival and Ohio Valley Conference foe Western Kentucky in Bowling Green, Ky. on Nov. 5. The Hilltoppers earned a 20-14 record last season, falling to league-favorite Old Dominion in the Conference USA Tournament Championship game. They also return Freshman All-American and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Center of the Year Award finalist Charles Bassey to the frontcourt.
Back in Cookeville, the Golden Eagles will host Martin Methodist in the home-opener in the Eblen Center on Nov. 9. Tech will then welcome Wright State for another home match-up on Nov. 12 before hitting the road for its longest road stretch of the season.
Martin Methodist is led by head coach Dugan Lyne, who spent four seasons as a student assistant at Austin Peay. During that time, the Govs won two-straight Ohio Valley Conference regular season titles and the 2008 OVC Tournament.
Wright State represents another 20-win team on the slate after finishing 21-14 a season ago. The Raiders tallied a 13-5 mark and made an appearance in the NIT after falling to Northern Kentucky in the Horizon League Tournament title game.
Up next on the docket is a three-game tournament hosted by UNCG from Nov. 15-17. Tech will face off again not only the Spartans, but also Appalachian State and Montana State. UNCG finished 2018-19 a remarkable 29-7 and 15-3 in league play. The Spartans eventually fell to No. 1 seeded Wofford in the Southern Conference Tournament title game, but did earn a first-round victory in the NIT before ending the year with a loss to tournament darling Lipscomb.
App State named Dustin Kerns its new lead man in the spring after guiding Presbyterian to its best season as a Division I program, sporting a 20-16 record and appearance in the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament (CIT). Montana State also made a change at the top, selecting former Bobcat great Danny Sprinkle to direct its team. Sprinkle served on staff at Cal State Fullerton, a squad that fell in the Big West Tournament title game and earned a CIT berth with 16 wins.
Sticking to the road slate, Tech will make a return trip to Winthrop on Nov. 21 after hosting the Eagles in 2018-19. In last season's match-up, the veteran Winthrop squad rallied from a 12-point, second-half deficit to upend the Golden Eagles, 82-70.
The Golden Eagles will enjoy a home-and-home set up with in-state rival Lipscomb on the year, playing host to the Bisons on Nov. 25 before returning the trip to Nashville on Dec. 17. Last season, Lipscomb enjoyed a historic, 29-8 campaign. While the Bisons fell to Liberty in the Atlantic Sun Tournament title game, the team became the talk of the NIT, winning four straight games before falling to No. 1-seeded Texas in the championship game.
A home tilt with Reinhardt University and newly minted head coach Justin Newton await the Golden Eagles on Dec. 2. It's followed with a trek north and Dec. 8 meeting with Ohio, which also introduced a new lead man for the program this spring. Former Bobcat Jeff Boals returned to his alma mater after leading Stony Brook to a 24-8 record and postseason berth in the Roman College Basketball Invitational (CBI).
Tech's final home affair in the non-conference slate features a Dec. 21 showdown against Western Carolina, which finished 7-25 in the 2018-19 campaign. The Golden Eagles will then wrap up the calendar year with a trip to Ole Miss on Dec. 29. The Rebels represent the fifth team on Tech's non-conference schedule to have won 20 games last season.
"The schedule starts off challenging, especially with a trip to Western Kentucky to open the year. We play at Winthrop and have the multi-team tournament which features three games in three days. Later in non-conference, we're going to have tough contests at Ohio and at Ole Miss. For us to be able to come in here and finish off the schedule, we are pleased with who we have a chance to play. We understand there are going to be a lot of challenges along the way."
Once the year turns to 2020, the Golden Eagles will shift gears into conference mode, kicking off an 18-game slate through the OVC with a road trip to "Death Valley." Tech will visit Eastern Kentucky on Jan. 2 before wrapping up one of the toughest road swings in the league with a Jan. 4 test at Morehead State.
"That's the second part of your season and the most competitive," Pelphrey explained about the OVC portion of the schedule. "It's also where you find out a lot about yourself as individual and as a team. Because we are so young and inexperienced, we are excited to see how much we learn and improve from the experiences we gain in our non-conference schedule."
Representing Tech's OVC home opener will be a tilt against in-state foe Austin Peay on Jan. 9, followed quickly by a Jan. 11 match-up with reigning league champion Murray State. The purple and gold hit the road once more the following week, making a Jan. 16 appearance at SIUE before a Jan. 18 contest at Eastern Illinois.
The Golden Eagles close out the month of January with their longest home stretch of the season, hosting Morehead State (Jan. 23) and Eastern Kentucky (25) in rematches from the league's opening weekend. Tech stays in the comfort of the Hoop the following week with in-state battles against Belmont (Jan. 30) and Tennessee State (Feb. 1) on the docket.
Back on the road again, Tech will visit UT Martin on Feb. 6 and Southeast Missouri on Feb. 8 before returning for a single home contest against Jacksonville State on Feb. 13. A brief stop in Nashville rounds out the weekend as Tech takes on Tennessee State in Nashville on Feb. 15.
Tech closes out the regular season home slate with games against UT Martin (Feb. 20) and Southeast Missouri (Feb. 22). The team then concludes the regular season altogether with a Feb. 27 affair at Belmont and Feb. 29 showdown at Jacksonville State.
For the third straight year, the OVC Tournament will be held at the Ford Center in Evansville, Ind., beginning Mar. 4.
Start times for the 2019-20 schedule will be announced at a later date.
Season tickets for Tennessee Tech men's basketball are on sale now. Call (931) 372-3940, visit the Eblen Center ticket office or visit TTUsports.com for details.
Photo by Thomas Corhern