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Golden Eagles return to Eblen Center to host OVC-leading Austin Peay, Murray State

Golden Eagles return to Eblen Center to host OVC-leading Austin Peay, Murray State

By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Tech men's basketball team is back in the Eblen Center for a two-game home stand against Austin Peay and Murray State, beginning with a 7:30 p.m. CT tilt with the Governors Thursday evening.

Tech will then host the Racers on Saturday, in another 7:30 p.m. affair following the Golden Eagle women's contests against Murray State.

The Saturday contest will represent Legends Night. In honor of the 40th anniversary of the Hooper Eblen Center, Tech has invited back members of the 1977-78 men's and women's basketball teams. Tech will also welcome the 1957-58 and 1962-63 OVC regular season champion squads, both of which went on to represent the Golden Eagles in the NCAA Tournament.

Additionally, the game will also be Tech's second Upper Cumberland Night, providing all fans with an Upper Cumberland address on their identification with $1 admission.

Both games can be followed on 106.1 The Eagle or on the OVC Digital Network.

Tennessee Tech (11-6, 3-1) vs. Austin Peay (9-7, 4-0)
Thursday, Jan. 11, 2018
7:30 p.m. CT
Eblen Center (7,500) – Cookeville, Tenn.

The Broadcasts
TV: None
Radio: 106.1 The Eagle (Roger Ealey)
Webcast: OVC Digital Network (Dylan Vazzano)

ABOUT AUSTIN PEAY
Austin Peay is in its first season under the direction of head coach Matt Figger.

Austin Peay is off to its first 4-0 start in Ohio Valley Conference play since 2010-11 and closed out a season-long six game homestand with a 76-71 victory over Southeast Missouri.

A trio of Govs – Tre' Ivory, Chris Porter-Bunton and Dayton Gumm – are among the top-10 in the OVC in steals per game, making the Govs the only team with three players among the league's top-10.

Research pegs freshman Terry Taylor (16.1 ppg, 8.3 rpg) as one of three freshmen in the nation leading his team in scoring and rebounding, alongside Duke's Marvin Bagley III and Kentucky's Kevin Knox.

With 30 points against Evansville, Taylor became the first Austin Peay freshman since APSU Athletics Hall of Famer Nick Stapleton (Feb. 13, 1999) to score 30 or more in a single game as a frosh. That mark was tied for 20th-best by a Division I freshman as of Jan. 2.

The Govs shot an astounding 60 percent (33-of-55) against Miami, their first team shooting performance of 60 percent or better since Dec. 28, 2016 (at WKU).

Austin Peay's 31 assists against Oakland City, Nov. 15 tied a Dunn Center record set Dec. 30, 2015 against Westminster and remains tied for 22nd in a single game across the NCAA this season.

SERIES NOTES
This will mark the 142nd meeting between the two programs all-time, with Tech owning a 72-69 advantage.

The Golden Eagles will look for their second straight win over the Tigers in Nashville after claiming last year's contest in the Gentry Center, 80-74, in overtime on Jan. 19.

Tech has won eight of the last 10 match-ups, including each of the past five that have taken place in Cookeville.

Last season, the Golden Eagles overcame a 12-point, second-half deficit against the Colonels in Cookeville, earning a 76-67 victory that saw four Tech players in double figures.

Aleksa Jugovic led the way with 17 points on 5-for-9 shooting from deep. Kajon Mack added 16 points while Hakeem Rogers and Stephaun Adams chipped in 13 and 10, respectively.

This will mark the first of two regular-season match-ups between the two in-state rivals, the first time the two have met twice in the same regular season since 2010-11 campaign.

The Golden Eagles have won four of the past five contests in Clarksville.

Tennessee Tech (11-6, 3-1) vs. Murray State (12-3, 4-0)
Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018
7:30 p.m. CT
Eblen Center (7,500) – Cookeville, Tenn.

The Broadcasts
TV: None
Radio: 106.1 The Eagle (Roger Ealey)
Webcast: OVC Digital Network (Dylan Vazzano)

ABOUT MURRAY STATE
Murray State is in its third season under the direction of head coach Matt McMahon.

Jonathan Stark, the OVC Preseason Player of the Year, enters the week on an incredible roll in the start of league play. He is scoring 26.5 points per game on 56 percent shooting from 3-point range and 96 percent from the free throw line.

Stark tied the MSU record last weekend by reaching 1,000 career points in only 48 games. He also set the MSU mark for consecutive made free throws with 39.

Stark, who is one of six active players in the OVC that have 1,000 career points, will face another on that list on Saturday, Tech's Aleksa Jugovic.

Terrell Miller, Jr., has also played 48 games at MSU and sits at 759 points and seeks to be the 44th member of the MSU 1000-Point Club.

As the third week of OVC play begins, there are two 4-0 teams in the Racers and Austin Peay. On the other end, there are two 0-4 teams in Morehead State and Eastern Kentucky. MSU and APSU are travel partners and play at JSU and TTU this week.

SERIES NOTES
This will mark the 182nd meeting between the two programs all-time, with the Racers owning a 131-50 advantage.

The Racers have won 12 of the past 14 contests between the two teams, including five of the past six in Cookeville.

Last season, the Golden Eagles split their match-ups against Murray State, earning a regular-season victory at home before suffering a double-overtime defeat in the first round of the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament in Nashville.

In January, Tech collected its second straight win over the Racers for the first time since the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons, defeating MSU 71-67 in Cookeville to snap its five-game win streak in the Eblen Center.

The two sides battled back-and-forth in a thrilling, first-round game in the OVC Tournament in March, with Kajon Mack driving the lane and snagging the game-tying dunk just before the buzzer to force a first overtime.

With six seconds in the game, Jonathan Stark hit a go-ahead and eventual game-winning 3-pointer for the 85-84 victory for Murray State. He finished with 41 points.

Hakeem Rogers led Tech with 20 points and a career-high 10 rebounds for his first and only career double-double. Mack tallied 17 points and seven rebounds, Curtis Phillips Jr. posted 16 points and 10 boards (his first double-double at Tech), Aleksa Jugovic snagged 15 points and Mason Ramsey chipped in 13 points.

This will mark the first of two regular-season match-ups between the two in-state rivals, the first time the two have met twice in the same regular season since 2010-11 campaign.

TRENDING
Tech (11-6) is off to its best start since the 2015-16 season. The Golden Eagles finished 19-12 that season, including an 11-5 mark and second-place finish in the Ohio Valley Conference East Division. It also marked the program's most recent postseason berth, a bid into the Vegas16 Tournament.

The Golden Eagles showed off the kind of ball movement that ranked them first in the OVC against Morehead State. Tech's 24 assists on 28 field goals (85.7 percent) broke the school record for percentage of assists to field goals made in a single game set earlier this season against Boyce College (34-on-41 for 82.9 percent). Tech added 19 more assists on just 24 field goal attempts (79.2 percent) against Eastern Kentucky.

With 17.5 assists per game this season, Tech is on pace to post the third-highest apg mark in program history and best since averaging 19.0 assists in 1992-93. The 1989-90 Golden Eagle squad set the program record with 20.4 per game.

After receiving 23 points of scoring from its bench against the Eagles, the Golden Eagles are now a perfect 7-0 on the year when the bench scores at least 23 points.

With a 7-1 start to the season, the Golden Eagles completed their most successful month of November in program history. No Tech squad had won more than five games in November prior to this season.

The Golden Eagles are attempting 25.0 free throw attempts at home in seven games this season as opposed to just 17.9 attempts at the line in 10 contests away from the Eblen Center.

With wins over Omaha and Maryland Eastern Shore to take the Emerald Coast Classic tilte, Tech won its first early season tournament since claiming the the Las Vegas Classic back during the 2005-06 season.

Tech was predicted to finish fifth overall in the 2018 OVC race in voting by the league's head coaches and SIDs.

DON'T SELL EXPERIENCE SHORT
Tech boasts arguably the most experienced team in the OVC entering the 2017-18 season, returning a whopping 77.3 percent of its minutes played from just a season ago. That mark ranks first in the league by over 10 percent (Eastern Kentucky returns 66.6 percent).

The Golden Eagles also return 71 percent of its scoring from the 2016-17 squad, ranking only behind the Colonels' 75.7 percent. Only Tech, Eastern Kentucky and Murray State return both of their respective top-two scorers, with TTU's Aleksa Jugovic and Kajon Mack combining for 27.0 ppg, EKU's Nick Mayo and Asante Gist totaling 34.4 ppg and MSU's Jonathan Stark and Terrell Miller teaming up for 37.9 ppg.

Aside from the Golden Eagles, only Eastern Illinois and Eastern Kentucky return at least four of their top-five scorers from last season. Tech will return six of its top-seven scorers from the 2016-17 campaign.

40TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE HOOP
Originally opened back in 1977, the Hooper Eblen Center was named for former athlete, head coach and administrator Hooper Eblen, who served the university for 33 years and was instrumental in planning the football stadium and basketball arena. This season, "The Hoop" – or as it was once known, "The Temple of Doom" – will celebrate its 40th season since opening for the TTU Invitational Volleyball Tournament on Sept. 20, 1977.

The Tech men's team hosted the first basketball game in the Eblen Center, earning a 72-71 victory over in-state foe Vanderbilt on Nov. 26, 1977.

The Tech men have enjoyed a home court advantage since the opening of The Hoop, boasting a win percentage of 70.1 in the Eblen Center. From Dec. 2, 2000 to Jan. 4, 2003, did not lose a game in the facility, amassing 33 straight victories for the longest home win streak in program history.

During its 40th anniversary, The Hoop will play host to 29 total basketball games, including 15 for the women and 14 for the men.

GIVE ME SOME SUGAR
After averaging 5.8 points as a freshman and 12.1 points as a sophomore, senior guard Aleksa Jugovic continued his upward trend by averaging a team-high 15.2 points per game last season. The slick shooting Serb became the 36th member of the Golden Eagles' 1,000-point club last year and currently ranks 17th on the all-time scoring list with 1,277 points.

Fans can follow Jugovic on Twitter under his handle/nickname @Serbian_Sugar. The moniker, originally developed by current assistant coach and previous director of basketball operations Gus Fraley, was created to help acclimate the Serbia native to the fans of Golden Eagle basketball.

For the second straight year, Jugovic earned a place on the Preseason All-OVC Team, entering 2017-18 as the league's fifth-leading returning scorer and second-most active 3-point shooter, hitting 2.6 treys per game last year. He also earned a place on Lindy's Sports Preseason All-OVC First Team and College Sports Madness' Preseason All-OVC Second Team.

Additionally, Jugovic led the OVC and ranked 10th nationally in free throw shooting, hitting 90.8 percent of his attempts from the charity stripe, the third-highest showing in school history. He currently ranks second all-time in Golden Eagle history in career free throw percentage, converting an 86.9 rate.

A deadly 3-point sniper, Jugovic needs just 26 triples to break former Golden Eagle Frank Davis' all-time program record of 251 made 3-pointers. The senior knocked down 71 treys as a sophomore and 82 more as a junior. He currently has 42 on the year, on pace for 77 over the 31 scheduled games.

Jugovic went bananas in The Pit at New Mexico, finishing 11-for-12 from the field and a perfect, school-record setting 7-for-7 from downtown on his way to a career-high 31 points.

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 four 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.

Ramsey saw an uptick in his performance during OVC play in 2016-17, averaging 10.9 points and 5.3 rebounds (or about 1.5 more points and nearly a full rebound more) during the league stretch. He notched a career-high in scoring twice during that span while dropping double-digit points in over half of the contests.

While technically still a senior in eligibility, Ramsey represents the third graduate student on the team in 2017-18. The veteran earned his bachelor's degree in finance in May and is currently working on his master's in business administration.

The forward has racked up 310 fouls in his career, currently the fourth-most in program history. He is currently on pace to break the program record of 357 personal fouls set by Amadi McKenzie from 2004-08, averaging over 3.5 fouls per game.

THAT MACK ATTACK
Graduate guard Kajon Mack earned a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA after missing two seasons due to injury while previously playing at Tulane.

The combo guard was a do-everything player for Tech in 2017-18, leading the team in rebounding, assists and steals while ranking second in scoring. He averaged 11.8 points, 5.0 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.3 steals.

With his performance, Mack became the first Golden Eagle in program history to lead the team in both rebounding and assists in a single season.

The Los Angeles native flirted with triple-doubles three times last season, putting up 18 points, six assists and eight rebounds against Central Michigan (Nov. 14), 14 points, seven assists and seven rebounds at Ohio and 24 points, six assists and 12 rebounds against Belmont.

He showed a knack for making big plays and putting up big performances in the most important games of the season for Tech as well. He posted his first career double-double (career-highs of 24 pts and 12 reb) while helping the Golden Eagles hand Belmont its only OVC loss of 2017-18.

Mack followed it up with back-to-back steals and layups in the final 35 seconds in regulation of TTU's crucial overtime victory at Jacksonville State to help clinch a tournament berth.

In Tech's OVC Tournament contest against Murray State, it was Mack's dunk with less than two second on the clock that tied the game and sent it to overtime. He put the team on his back, scoring all nine points in the first overtime period to send it to double OT.

In the championship game of the Emerald Coast Classic, Mack turned in arguably his best career shooting performance, finishing 9-of-10 from the field and a career-best 6-of-7 from 3-point range to tie his career-high of 24 points.

WORTH THE WAIT
After sitting out the second semester of 2015-16 and the first 10 games of last season due to NCAA transfer rules, Curtis Phillips Jr. made his time on the court count, ranking fifth on the team in scoring and fourth in rebounding.

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.

The wing finished strong for Tech in 2017-18, scoring in double figures in five of his last seven games, including posting his second career double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds in the OVC Tournament.

Phillips filled the stats sheet against Kennesaw State, scoring 21 points, snagging eight rebounds, dishing out five assists, tallying three steals and blocking two shots.

At New Mexico, he dropped his second straight 20-point performance, posting 16 second-half points on his way to 23 total.

Phillips posted his second career double-double and first of the year against Morehead State. He corralled his 10th rebound of the game on the offensive glass, took one dribble and laid in the game-winning layup with 0.4 second to play.

At Tennessee State, Phillips poured in a career-high 28 points with a career-best five 3-pointers, leading Tech to the overtime victory.

The senior currently leads the OVC in steals and steals per game, averaging 2.0 per game for a total of 34 on the year.

AT LONG LAST
Golden Eagle fans have been waiting for years to see Shaq Calhoun take up the purple and gold, but the wait is finally over. After originally committing to Tech out of Model High School in Georgia, Calhoun ended up at Iowa Western Community College for two seasons, sitting out his sophomore year with an injury.

Originally recruited by both Coach Payne and former TTU assistant coach Russ Willemsen, Calhoun joined Willemsen at South Alabama for the next two seasons. At long last, he makes his long awaited return to Cookeville as a graduate transfer.

Calhoun averaged 8.5 points and 2.3 rebound per game while tallying 88 steals in 65 games while as USA. The 6-foot-4 guard adds size and scoring ability to the Tech lineup, not to mention another veteran presence.

The graduate transfer showed off his scoring ability against Boyce College, pouring in 20 points in 21 minutes on a red-hot 8-of-9 shooting from the floor.

At Belmont, Calhoun knocked a season-high 4-of-5 attempts from downtown on his way to 14 points off the bench. He followed it up with a 6-for-12 showing at TSU, scoring a Tech career-best 23 points, including the game-tying triple with 12 seconds to play to force overtime in the victory.

LOCAL FLAVOR
Two Golden Eagle players can make the trip to Cookeville from their respective home towns in about 20 minutes, just outside of shouting distance.

Senior Mason Ramsey hails from nearby Livingston, Tenn., just 20 miles north of Cookeville.

Sophomore junior college transfer Cade Crosland calls Sparta, Tenn. home, a less-than 20-mile trip south of Cookeville.

JOINING THE RANKS
The Golden Eagles made three additions for the 2018-19 season during the early signing period, all from the state Tennessee.

Joining Tech from Van Buren County High School will be scoring guard Caden Mills.

Already a 2,000-point scorer, Milles averaged 26.0 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game as a junior.

Mills led VBCHS to a 28-5 record and third straight appearance to the TSSAA state tournament last season.

Joining Tech from Arlington High School will be forward Garrett Golday.

The 6-foot-7 signee averaged a double-double as a junior, with 19 points and 10 rebounds per game. He also added five blocks per game.

Golday led AHS to a District 14-AAA regular season title and earned All-Metro and All-Region honors.

Joining Tech from McCallie High School will be point guard Jr. Clay.

Boasting great speed, Clay averaged 13.8 points, 4.0 assists and 2.5 steals per game while leading MHS to an appearance in the state championship game.

Clay was named a finalist for the TSSAA Division II-AA Mr. Basketball Award and took home multiple postseason honors.

Photo by Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information

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