By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Tech men's basketball team is back in Cookeville and the Hooper Eblen Center to play host to Southeast Missouri in a 7:30 p.m. CT tilt, Thursday, Jan. 25.
The Golden Eagles will then host UT Martin in a second straight doubleheader on Saturday, also a 7:30 p.m. start. Both games can be followed on 106.1 The Eagle or on the OVC Digital Network.
Thursday's doubleheader will serve as Academic Excellence night. Saturday's doubleheader will be Tech's annual Gold Rush game, with fans highly encouraged to dress in gold.
Tennessee Tech (13-8, 5-3) vs. Southeast Missouri (10-11, 4-4)
Thursday, Jan. 25, 2018
7:30 p.m. CT
Eblen Center (7,500) – Cookeville, Tenn.
ABOUT SOUTHEAST MISSOURI
Southeast Missouri is in its third season under the direction of head coach Rick Ray.
Identical 86-74 wins at SIUE (Jan. 18) and Eastern Illinois (Jan. 20) gave Southeast its first road sweep in Ohio Valley Conference play this season. The Redhawks swept the SIUE/EIU road swing for the first time since 2012. That year, Southeast beat EIU, 74-53, on Jan. 30 and SIUE, 85-72, on Feb. 11.
A win over Tennessee Tech Thursday would give the Redhawks a three-game road winning streak in Ohio Valley Conference play. Southeast beat both SIU Edwardsville (Jan. 18) and Eastern Illinois (Jan. 20), 86-74, last week. The Redhawks last won three-consecutive conference road games in 2004-05 -- at UT Martin (76-68, Feb. 3), at Murray Starte (61-58, Feb. 5) and at Eastern Illinois (88-79, Feb. 8).
Southeast shot 50 percent (6-of-12) from 3-point range, made 18-consecutive free throws and outscored Eastern Illinois, 50-31, in the second half to storm by the Panthers on Jan. 20. The Redhawks overcame multiple 11-point deficits in the come-from-behind win. Southeast also won a game for the first time this season after trailing at halftime (43-36).
Senior Daniel Simmons poured in a career and game-high 26 points, while freshman Justin Carpenter added a career-best 24 points to lead Southeast to its latest 86-74 win over Eastern Illinois (Jan. 20). Simmons made a near-perfect 8-of-9 field goals and matched a career-high five 3-pointers made in 27 minutes off the bench. Meanwhile, Carpenter shot 10-of-16 from the field and grabbed four rebounds in 30 minutes.
Denzel Mahoney is climbing his way to 1,000 points in his two-year Southeast career. Mahoney, who led the Redhawks in scoring during 14 games this season, has 905 points in 54 career starts. If he reaches that milestone, Mahoney will be the second player under head coach Rick Ray to score 1,000 points at Southeast. Mahoney will also become the fifth different Redhawk to score over 1,000 career points since 2012-13.
This will mark the 50th meeting between the two programs all-time, with Tech owning a 32-17 advantage.
SEMO has won four of the past five meetings between the two programs, including two of the past four games in Cookeville.
Last season, the Redhawks held on as Tech nearly rallied from a 20-point deficit. SEMO edged the Golden Eagles, 83-78, despite Tech cutting the 20-point lead down to just two points, all in just eight minutes.
Senior Mason Ramsey scored 19 points, gathered six rebounds and notched four steals in the loss to lead Tech.
The Golden Eagles won the most recent match-up in Cookeville, with Aleksa Jugovic drilling 7-of-11 attempts from 3-point range in just 23 minutes of action on his way to a game-high 27 points. Torrance Rowe finished with 12 assists and zero turnovers to set a school record.
Tennessee Tech (13-8, 5-3) vs. UT Martin (7-14, 2-6)
Saturday, Jan. 27, 2018
7:30 p.m. CT
Eblen Center (7,500) – Cookeville, Tenn.
ABOUT UT MARTIN
UT Martin is in its second season under the direction of head coach Anthony Stewart.
UTM was victorious in its last game, a dramatic 70-69 decision at SIUE on Saturday. Dominique Williams recorded the first double-double of his collegiate career with 14 points and 11 rebounds while Terrence Parker added a career-best 14 points. Fatodd Lewis sank the go-ahead jumper in the lane with 11 seconds to go for the Skyhawks.
Delfincko Bogan was a difference-maker on both ends at SIUE, securing game-highs of 21 points (on 7-of-8 shooting) and five steals. The Charleston, Mo. native began his collegiate career at Jacksonville State, appearing in 30 games as a true freshman in 2015-16.
The Skyhawks have used 13 different starting lineup combinations through 21 games. That is tied with Florida Gulf Coast and Bryant for the second-most in Division-I behind only Pitt sburgh (14). A total of 10 UT Martin players have made at least one start while only Matthew Butler has started in every contest this year.
Matthew Butler ranks fourth nationally and leads the Ohio Valley Conference in minutes played (781, 37.2 per game). The redshirt senior, who led the Division-I ranks for a majority of last season in the same category, has logged at least 40 minutes in 13 of his 56 career games at UT Martin.
The Skyhawks added walk-on Julian Thompson-Clay to the active roster on Jan. 8. The redshirt junior joins UT Martin basketball after playing 32 games over the past three seasons at linebacker for the Skyhawk football program. Thompson-Clay averaged 16.9 points, 9.8 rebounds, 1.7 steals and 1.5 assists per game during his senior campaign at Rossview High School in 2013-14.
This will mark the 50th meeting between the two programs all-time, with Tech owning a 36-13 advantage.
UT Martin has won each of the past three meetings between the two programs, including the last two in Cookeville.
Prior to Tech's three-game skid against the Skyhawks, the Golden Eagles had won eight straight against their in-state and OVC rival. Tech has never lost three straight games at home to the Skyhawks.
Last season, the Skyhawks took advantage of some shooting woes by the Golden Eagle squad, defeating Tech 74-46.
TTU shot just 31.1 percent from the field, 15.6 percent from 3-point range and 25.0 percent from the charity stripe in the contest.
On the flip side, UT Martin shot 51.7 percent from the floor and hit 10-of-26 3-point attempts (38.5 percent). The Skyhaks also out-rebounded Tech, 48-29 in the contest.
Kajon Mack finished as Tech's lone double-digit scorer for Tech, finishing with 12 points on 5-for-11 shooting.
Tech (13-8) 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 16.0 assists per game this season, Tech is on pace to post the since averaging 16.7 assists in 2002-2003. The 1989-90 Golden Eagle squad set the program record with 20.4 per game.
After receiving 21 points of scoring from its bench at Eastern Kentucky, the Golden Eagles are now 8-1 on the year when the bench scores at least 21 points. The lone loss? A five-point defeat on the road against a one-loss Central Michigan squad.
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 18.2 attempts at the line in 11 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 70.5 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.
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 87.3 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.
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.
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.
At Eastern Kentucky, Mack was flawless form the charity stripe, finishing 11-for-11 on his way to a team-high 17 points. He sank all six of his attempts within the final minute, rallying the Golden Eagles from a three-point deficit to a 70-67 victory.
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.
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 325 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.
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 1.8 per game for a total of 38 on the year.
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.
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.
Photo by Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information