By Nate Perry, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – Another game, another step in the process.
The Tennessee Tech women's basketball team has enjoyed the program's best start of the 21st century, winning 11 of its first 14 games and its first three in OVC play, a feat that not many people outside the Hooper Eblen Center saw coming.
Picked to finish seventh in the preseason poll, Tech has a chance to write another chapter of the league's most intriguing story on Saturday evening when it takes on Eastern Illinois at 5:30 p.m. in the Eblen Center.
THE FANTASTIC FOURTH
A victory on Saturday would make Tennessee Tech 4-0 to start the conference season, which has not been done since 2004-05.
BRINGING THE HURT IN THE HOOP
The Golden Eagles have been unbeatable inside the Hoop so far this year, holding a 6-0 record. The average margin of victory in those six wins is 21.5 points, as four of them have come by 19 or more.
Tech is shooting 44.9 percent from the floor inside the friendly confines, with a 38.9 percent mark from 3-point range, and just shy of an 80-percent clip from the free throw line (79.4%).
GETTING ON THEM EARLY
Tech has outscored its opponents 491-372 in the first half this season, a margin of plus-119. In comparison, Tech was a cumulative minus-140 over the first 20 minutes of games in 2017-18, and a minus-178 in 2016-17.
LIGHTING IT UP…
TTU is averaging 75 points and nine 3-pointers per game in its three OVC contests, thanks in large part to the hot shooting of sophomore Jordan Brock. The Harlan, Ky. product has taken her scoring touch to another level since league play began, averaging 17.3 points per game with a .607 field goal percentage (17-of-28), an incredible .706 mark from behind the long line (12-of-17), and an unblemished mark from the free-throw line (6-of-6). She is shooting a league-best 44.2 percent from distance on the year.
Tech's scoring margin of plus-13 in conference games is the best in the league.
…AND SHUTTING THEM DOWN
Over the course of its six-game winning streak, Tech has only allowed one opponent (two-time defending OVC champion Belmont) to reach the 60-point barrier. Tech ranks third in the conference in scoring defense for the regular season (60.5 points allowed per game), and is second in field goal percentage defense (35.8 percent).
EASTERN ILLINOIS PROFILE
Eastern Illinois joined the OVC in 1996-97 season, and has a 173-213 record in nearly 400 games. The Panthers have won a pair of conference titles in their 22 seasons, reigning supreme with a 16-2 league in 2009-10 and a 12-4 mark in 2012-13.
EIU endured a period of transition last year under new coach Matt Bollant, who guided the Panthers to a 3-26 overall record, and a 2-16 ledger in the OVC.
Eastern appears to have made significant improvements for 2018-19, as Bollant's club is off to a 7-7 start with a 1-2 conference record. The Panthers beat UT Martin 77-71 on the opening night of league play, EIU fell to SIUE, 65-56, last Saturday, and fell to Jacksonville State, 79-48, on Thursday.
Clarksville, Tenn. native Karle Pace, who did not play in Thursday night's loss to JSU, leads the Panthers with the sixth-best scoring average in the conference at 14.8 points per game. She clips at better than 46 percent from the field, and is a threat from 3-point range as well (.375).
Taylor Steele also scores in double figures for EIU (11.1 pg), shoots 35.6 percent from behind the arc, and joins Pace as the only two Panthers with more than 20 made triples. Both players shoot better than 70 percent from the free throw line as well.
Grace Lennox is the primary distributor on the team, and is among the top 10 in the OVC in assists per game (3.6). She also leads the team with 28 steals on the year, and is the team's third leading scorer with 7.9 points per contest.
Grace McRae and Jennifer Nehls do most of the team's heavy lifting in the rebounding department, averaging 6.8 and 6.6 boards per game, respectively. Those marks are 10th and 11th-best in the OVC.
After losing two of its first three dates with Eastern Illinois, Tech ran off a string of 11 straight victories over the Panthers. The streak began with the second meeting of the 1997-98 season, and ended on Feb. 3, 2003 with a 64-46 EIU win in Charleston.
TTU started a new streak following the loss, winning eight more consecutively to own a 20-3 record through the first 23 chapters of the series.
Following the departure of TTU coach Bill Worrell, Eastern Illinois would win nine in a row from 2006-07 to 2009-10.
That run would end with a 65-58 Tech victory in Cookeville on Dec. 19, 2010. Tech would then get the sweep of the Panthers later that year with a 60-56 victory in Charleston, and finish that year with the 17th regular-season OVC title in program history.
From there, the two teams have split the most recent eight matchups, trading victories in each renewal.
Kim Rosamond's first encounter with EIU came on Feb. 4, 2017, a 54-46 loss on the road. Akia Harris had seven points, five assists, four rebounds and a steal in the game.
Tech won the only meeting last season, which was also played at EIU. Mackenzie Coleman registered a double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds, Abby Buckner had a then-career-high with 14 points, eight boards and two steals, Jordan Brock scored 10 points and Akia Harris had seven points, four rebounds and four assists. All four players started the contest.
Photo by Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information