By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Tech men's basketball team will make its annual "Death Valley" road trip starting Thursday, Jan. 18 at Eastern Kentucky with a 7 p.m. CT tip. Tech will then head for Morehead State on Jan. 20 and a 3:15 p.m. contest.
Both games can be followed on 106.1 The Eagle or on the OVC Digital Network.
Tennessee Tech (12-7, 4-2) at Eastern Kentucky (8-11, 2-4)
Thursday, Jan. 18, 2018
7:00 p.m. CT
McBrayer Arena (6,500) – Richmond, Ky.
ABOUT EASTERN KENTUCKY
Eastern Kentucky is in its third season under the direction of head coach Dan McHale.
Junior Jackson Davis (18) and sophomore Dujuanta Weaver (15) both scored career highs to lead EKU to a 91-86 win at Southeast Missouri on Saturday. It was the Colonels' second straight OVC road victory.
Junior Nick Mayo sits at No. 16 on EKU's all-time scoring list (1,332 points). Next up on the list: Eric Stutz (1,338).
Dedric Boyd was voted the OVC Freshman of the Week on Monday. He averaged 20.0 ppg last week.
EKU shot a season-best 95.5 percent (21-of-22) from the free throw line in the win over SEMO. The Colonels now rank second in the OVC in free throw percentage (75.8).Freshman A.J. Youngman ranks fifth in the OVC (and tops among all OVC freshmen) in 3-point field goal percentage (43.8%).
EKU drained a season-high 12 3-pointers in the win over Southeast Missouri on Saturday.
Freshman A.J. Youngman connected on two 3-pointers at SEMO and now ranks third in the OVC in 3-point field goal percentage (43.8).
EKU has now won the turnover battle in its last nine games, and the Colonels have risen to fourth in the OVC in the turnover margin (+1.0).
This will mark the 136th meeting between the two programs all-time, with Eastern Kentucky owning a 74-61 series lead.
The series marks the fifth-longest in Tech history, boasting more than 100 contests between the two teams.
Tech and EKU had split the previous 12 meetings, with each side winning six times, prior to this season's first tilt. The Colonels won both meetings last season.
In Cookeville, EKU defeated Tech 79-66 on Jan. 28. In the return trip to Richmond, the Colonels edged the Golden Eagles 75-71 on Feb. 25.
The Colonels lead the series when in Richmond, 43-23.
In the two teams' match-up in Cookeville this season, Aleksa Jugovic stole the show, draining 5-of-8 3-point attempts on his way to a game-high 28 points.
Tech outrebounded the Colonels 43-33 behind Courtney Alexander II's career-high 15 to defeat EKU 77-69.
Tennessee Tech (12-7, 4-2) at Morehead State (5-12, 1-5)
Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018
3:15 p.m. CT
Ellis T. Johnson Arena (6,500) – Morehead, Ky.
ABOUT MOREHEAD STATE
Morehead State is in its second season under the direction of head coach Preston Spradlin.
The Eagles have either led the Ohio Valley Conference or ranked second in rebounding margin now in 11 consecutive seasons, and that trend is nearly holding true again this season. They are currently fourth in the conference at +4.6.
Morehead State has made at least one three-pointer in 360 consecutive games, dating back to Feb. 13, 2007 when the Eagles had an 0-for-17 day versus Jacksonville State.
Junior forward Lamontray Harris is starting to put together games worthy of his preseason All-OVC selection by College Sports Madness. The Louisville native has averaged 16.8 points and 9.8 rebounds in the last four contests. He had his third double-double (19 points, 11 rebounds) of the year at UT Martin.
Morehead State has out-rebounded each of its past three opponenets, including SIUE (40-33), SEMO (36-30) and UT Martin (41-28) following back-to-back games of being out-rebounded by Eastern Illinois and Jacksonville State.
Since 2008-09, Morehead State has had five 20-win campaigns and made five postseason appearances (2 NCAA, 3 CBI). The Eagles advanced to the championship series of the CBI in 2015-16, taking Nevada to the final game of the three-game set before falling.
This will mark the 150th meeting between the two programs all-time, with Morehead State owning an 83-66 series lead.
The series marks the second-longest in Tech history, with the Golden Eagles' rivalry with Murray State the only one with more contests (181).
Morehead State has won six of the past eight contests, with the two sides splitting their match-ups in 2016-17.
Tech won in Cookeville on Jan. 26, 76-73. The Eagles edged TTU in Morehead on Feb. 23, 73-68.
The Golden Eagles edged out the Eagles in Cookeville earlier this season, winning 69-67 after Curtis Phillips Jr. snagged an offensive rebound and scored the game-winning layup with less than a second on the clock.
Phillips led the team in scoring in the contest, posting his first double-double of the season and second of his Tech career with 17 points and 10 rebounds. He also boasted five assists, three steals and two blocks.
Tech (12-7) 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 16.7 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 24.8 free throw attempts at home in nine 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.
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 16th on the all-time scoring list with 1,301 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.
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.
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 316 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 1.9 per game for a total of 37 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.
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