By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Tech men's basketball team returns to Cookeville for its 40th home opener in the Hooper Eblen Center Monday evening, playing host to first-time opponent Central Michigan in the second half of a doubleheader with the Golden Eagle women's squad.
Tennessee Tech (0-1) vs. Central Michigan (1-0)
Monday, Nov. 14, 2016
7:30 p.m. CT
Eblen Center (7,500) – Cookeville, Tenn.
ABOUT CENTRAL MICHIGAN
Central Michigan is in its fifth season under the direction of head coach Keno Davis.
Davis led the Chippewas to their second-straight Mid-American Conference West Division title in 2015-16, boasting a record of 17-16 and 10-8 in league play.
Last season, Central Michigan ranked No. 1 in the nation in turnovers per game, losing the ball just 9.2 times per game.
The Chippewas rank seventh in the nation in 3-pointers made over the past two seasons, sinking 646 over the two-year span.
Central Michigan enters play after a blowout victory in its season-opener against Indiana-Kokomo, a 117-53 victory.
Marcus Keene led all scorers with 32 points on 11-for-18 shooting. He also hauled in 10 rebounds, one of four Chippewas with a double-double.
Also posting double-double efforts for CMU were Braylon Rayson (17 pts, 10 reb), Cecil Williams (16 pts, 10 reb) and Kevin McKay (11 pts, 15 reb).
CMU hit a staggering 41-of-50 attempted free throws in the contest and hauled in a mind-blowing 72 rebounds overall while getting called for just 12 fouls in the game.
Tennessee Tech and Central Michigan will meet for the first time in program history.
The Golden Eagles are 16-17 all-time against the current members of the MAC.
Tech owns a 4-0 record against Eastern Michigan and a 3-1 mark against Ball State.
Former Ohio Valley Conference foe Akron owns a slight, 9-8 advantage against Tech, with every meeting occurring during the Zips' time in the OVC.
Tech will also play Ohio for the first time in school history this season, matching up with the Bobcats on Nov. 25.
The Golden Eagles will make a visit to Miami (Ohio) on Dec. 22, returning the trip made by the RedHawks last season to Cookeville. Tech won the match-up, 77-64.
GEORGIA TECH RECAP
Shooting woes proved detrimental to the Golden Eagle effort at Georgia Tech, as the Yellow Jackets downed Tech, 70-55.
TTU shot just 33.3 percent from the field, a surprising 19.2 percent from 3-point range and just 50 percent from the charity stripe.
Redshirt freshman Micaiah Henry enjoyed a brilliant collegiate debut, posting 15 points on 7-for-10 shooting while hauling in five rebounds and blocking two shots.
The Golden Eagles out-rebounded Georgia Tech, 37-34, with a huge advantage on the offensive glass of 21-8.
JUCO transfer Ja'Cardo Hawkins also posted solid numbers in his debut, finishing with 10 points and four rebounds on 50 percent shooting in just 12 minutes.
TECH PICKED 4th IN OVC EAST
Tech was predicted to finish 4th in the East Division in the 2017 OVC race in voting by the league's head coaches and SIDs.
The 2016-17 Tech roster features 14 players (12 scholarship student-athletes) representing seven states and two countries.
Five Golden Eagle players hail from the state Tennessee, while Georgia represents the only other state boasting multiple Tech players. California, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey, and Oklahoma all represent home for one player each.
Two Tech players were born outside the United States, with two still living in their native countries when not in Cookeville. Aleksa Jugovic is from Serbia and Stephaun Adams was is from the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Tech has two seniors, five juniors, four sophomores, a redshirt freshman and two true freshmen.
Eight Golden Eagles stand 6-foot-5 or taller while the other six measure at 6-foot-4 or shorter.
After spending the 2015-16 season building his strength and size and working on his low post moves as a redshirt, Micaiah Henry looks poised to move into a starting role right away for the Golden Eagles.
The youngster has shown improvement since his arrival on campus, possessing a knack for rebounding and blocking shots.
He also comes from some familiar territory to the Golden Eagle program, hailing from Columbia High School (Ga.).
TTU legend Lorenzo Coleman, Tech's all-time leader in blocked shots also attended Columbia High School. The post also posted the most double-doubles in program history with 40 in four years.
GIVE ME SOME SUGAR
Junior guard Aleksa Jugovic returns from his award-winning and breakout sophomore campaign in which he jumped from averages of 5.8 points and 2.0 assists per game as a freshman to 12.1 points and 2.9 assists as a junior.
The slick shooter also knocked down 40 more treys while increasing his shooting accuracy from downtown by nearly eight percent.
Fans can follow Jugovic on Twitter under his handle/nickname @SerbianSugar. The moniker, originally developed by Director of Basketball Operations Gus Fraley, was created to help acclimate the Serbia native to the fans of Golden Eagle basketball.
Between his junior and senior years in high school, Jugovic starred for the Serbian U-18 national team, starting at point guard at the 2013 FIBA Europe U-18 Championships. He averaged a team-high 30.2 minutes while recording 8.4 points, 3.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.5 steals per game.
Following his monster sophomore season, Jugovic was honored as the recipient of the Male Breakthrough Athlete of the Year at the Tennessee Tech Athletics Department's first annual Golden Wings Awards.
Jugovic also earned a place on this year's Preseason All-OVC Team after ranking in the top-five in 3-point shooting last season. In league play, the junior was unbelievable, leading the conference while hitting at a 50 percent clip.
Additionally, Jugovic ranked third in the OVC in free throw shooting in 2016-17, converting on 86.5 percent of his attempts from the charity stripe.
EARNING A SPOT
A walk-on to the Tech roster back during the 2013-14 season, Mason Ramsey has done plenty to earn the respect of his teammates and coaches in his three seasons in the purple and gold.
The local Livingston, Tenn. native was awarded a scholarship by Steve Payne following the 2014-15 season, Ramsey's first year of action on the court in Eblen Center.
After redshirting in 2013-14, Ramsey became the first Tech freshman since 1986-87 to open his career with a double-double, posting 14 points and 14 rebounds.
Coach Payne had great things to say about Ramsey's leadership qualities over the summer.
"Mason is great at leading by example, communicating, helping others, and making others better. He is doing several of the things we need done, especially by an upper classman after losing three seniors."
ROGERS! DOUBLE CHECK THAT
One of four JUCO transfers on the team, Hakeem Rogers became the first Tech player to hit four 3-pointers in his Golden Eagle debut in over 15 years, scoring 18 points in last season's victory over Piedmont College.
Rogers proved to be one of Tech's most valuable scoring options as a junior, coming off the bench to average 9.9 points and hit at 40.1 percent from 3-point range in just 18.3 minutes per game.
The lone senior on the roster that will exhaust his final season of eligibility this season, Rogers is expected to fill a leadership role both on and off the court while making the transition into a starting role for the Golden Eagles.
Rogers represents Tech's best offensive player in transition, possessing an ability to pull up from three, take it to the hole or distribute it to others, all while maintaining down hill speed.
Courtney Alexander II has one of the best role models in which to model his game after that a freshman collegiate player can have. And he lives in the same house.
His father, Courtney Alexander Sr., was the 13th overall selection by the Orlando Magic in the 2000 NBA Draft.
Courtney Sr. went on to play three seasons in the Association, including stints with Dallas, Washington and New Orleans.
He led the NCAA in scoring, averaging 24.8 points as a senior at Fresno State.
Alexander II changed the hand he shoots with for the second time in his young career. As a prep player, the forward shot primarily with his left hand, making the switch to his right during his senior season. The rookie began the transition back to his left hand last October.
THE TRANSFER EFFECT
Two members of the 2016-17 roster are Division I transfers; senior Kajon Mack and junior Curtis Phillips Jr. Both are expected to make huge impacts this season.
Mack joins Tech with one year of eligibility remaining, but is likely to be granted a sixth year by the NCAA after missing two seasons due to injury while at Tulane.
The combo guard has displayed the kind of skill set that could make him a dominant player in OVC this season, throwing down thunderous dunks, making fantastic reads and passes and playing stout defense in Tech's scrimmages.
The senior is expected to start and play a major role in the team right away.
Phillips Jr. will sit out the first semester of the season after transferring from Campbell last December. The junior sat out the second semester last year and will be eligible to suit up for Tech for its Dec. 10 match-up at Michigan State.
Phillips Jr. possesses a lot of potential as a wing, averaging over eight points and four rebounds per game while at Campbell.
After earning Big South All-Freshman Team honors in 2014-15, the forward made seven starts and played in eight contests for Campbell as a sophomore before mutually agreeing to part ways with the program.
PUTTING IN THE WORK
Junior Markell Henderson didn't see large chunks of minutes in his first season in the purple and gold last year, but that is sure to change in 2016-17.
Henderson is arguably the team's best athletes, consistently throwing down rim-rattling dunks and hauling in tough rebounds down in the paint. He owns a huge wingspan that plays well into his game.
Over the summer, Henderson worked hard on improving his 3-point shooting touch and the hard work seems to have paid off. The junior guard is expected to provide another lethal option from beyond the arc for the Golden Eagles this season.
His rebounding abilities will be a huge asset for a team returning less than 40 percent of its rebounding from last season.
In his first season of action, sophomore Savonte Frazier made the most of his opportunities, showing flashes of brilliance in limited action at the point guard position in 2015-16.
Now in his third season in Cookeville (the youngster redshirted the 2014-15 season), Coach Payne expects Frazier to develop into one of Tech's floor generals and team leaders.
The point guard is arguably the most vocal player on the Golden Eagle roster and does a great job of inspiring teammates and helping correct problems in the moment.
Frazier has the ability to get into the paint and create shots not just for himself, but everyone around him. He is also a capable 3-point shooter and tenacious defender expected to make strides in 2016-17.
Four Golden Eagle players can all make the trip to Cookeville from their respective home towns in under two hours.
Junior Mason Ramsey represents the closest to home, just a 20-minute ride from nearby Livingston, Tenn.
A walk-on freshman last season, sophomore Conner Hall lives just down the road from Cookeville, calling Gainesboro, Tenn. home. Hall played in five games last season and has become an instant fan favorite.
New to the crew, freshman Miles Thomas played his high school ball at South Doyle High School in Chattanooga, Tenn., a two-hour trip from the Eblen Center. Thomas boasts strong athletic ability and has a very high ceiling for his development to reach.
Colton Blevins is another freshman from the area, hailing from Jamestown, Tenn. Blevins is a hard-nosed, physical presence in the paint and is praised by coaches and teammates for his strong work ethic.
IT STARTS WITH A PHILOSOPHY
The Golden Eagle basketball team owns a philosophy that does not change from year-to-year.
Share the ball and play hard.
Be great defensively.
Know how we win. We win with great defense and an inside-out offense.
We win with high basketball IQ and low turnover totals.
This year's class also brings a special kind of chemistry and different energy level than previous teams.
The players approach everything with a willingness to learn and eagerness to get started and better every day.
The injury bug hasn't played a big factor in the early stages of the 2016-17 season.
Courtney Alexander II dealt with an ankle sprain early in the fall and also had his appendix removed last month. He is expected to play with no limitations.
Miles Thomas is currently battling mono and is expected to miss significant time while recovering.
After missing most of the 2015-16 season with a knee injury, Tulane transfer Kajon Mack is healthy and ready to go.
JOINING THE RANKS
The Golden Eagles made just one addition for the 2017-18 season during the early signing period, but the coaching staff couldn't be more thrilled with who they got.
Joining Tech from Camden Central High School will be combo guard Hunter Vick.
In his three-year career at Camden, the guard has already scored 1,764 points in just 81 games, averaging 21.7 per game. He has also hauled in 430 rebounds, dished out 283 assists and racked up 202 steals.
His junior season totals proved staggering, as he averaged 26.9 points, 8.0 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 3.0 steals.
UP NEXT: ALABAMA A&M
Tech stays home as part of a three-game home stand – one of two such stints for the team in 2016-17 – to host Alabama A&M Thursday, Nov. 17 at 7:30 p.m. CT.
Alabama A&M is in its sixth season under the direction of head coach Willie Hayes.
The Bulldogs return a pair of Preseason All-SWAC Second Team selections for 2016-17, senior guard Rakiya Battle and senior center Quinterian McConico.
In its season-opener, Alabama A&M dropped a 96-62 decision at Missouri State, allowing 50 points inside the paint.
McConico (team-high eight rebounds) and De'Ederick Petty led the Bulldogs with 14 points apiece while Tracey Burnett added 10 points. Battle contributed just five points, but managed to dish out six assists.
A&M allowed Missouri State to shoot 61.5 percent from the field and 44.4 percent from 3-point range while getting outworked on the glass, 32-23, and forcing just six turnovers.
Tennessee Tech and Alabama A&M will meet for the first time in program history on Thursday, the second straight first-time opponent for Tech.
A&M represents one of two non-conference opponents Tech will play a home-and-home series with in 2016-17 (Lipscomb), visiting the Bulldogs on Dec. 3.
The Golden Eagles are 6-2 all-time against the current membership of the Southwestern Athletic Conference.
Tech will also visit SWAC member Southern for the first this season on Tuesday,Nov. 22.
Photo by Tony Marable