By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Tech men's basketball team returns home for its final home stand of the 2017-18 season, beginning with a 7:30 p.m. CT match-up against in-state and Ohio Valley Conference rival Tennessee State Thursday evening.
Tech controls its own destiny while fighting for positioning in seeding for the OVC Tournament. Simply put, win its final two games and the Golden Eagle squad will receive a first-round bye into the quarterfinals at the Ford Center in Evansville, Ind.
Tennessee Tech (17-12, 9-7) vs. Tennessee State (15-12, 10-6)
Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018
7:30 p.m. CT
Eblen Center (7,500) – Cookeville, Tenn.
ABOUT TENNESSEE STATE
Tennessee State is in its fourth season under the direction of head coach Dana Ford.
Winners of eight of their last 10 games, the Tigers enter Thursday in sole possession of fourth place in the Ohio Valley Conference standings.
Prior to the loss to EKU on Saturday, the Tigers had won seven in a row - tying for the longest winning streak in fourth-year Head Coach Dana Ford. It's the third season in a row with a winning streak of six or more games.
Since joining the OVC prior to the 1987-88 season, the longest winning streak is nine games set in 1994-95 and matched in 2011-12.
A victory over Tennessee Tech would lock up TSU's third consecutive winning season. It would be TSU's first time accomplishing the feat since posting four-straight winning seasons from 1992-96.
Last time out on Feb. 17, the Tigers fell to Eastern Kentucky by a 72-59 margin at the Gentry Center.
Since the start of the 2015-16 season, TSU is 12-6 when facing anopponent for the second time in a season. This year, the Tigers are 4-1 in the second meeting with teams. In second matchups when TSU lost the first meeting, TSU is 6-2 over the last three seasons.
The Tigers are forcing turnovers on 23.6 percent of opponents' possessions - the fourth-highest rate in the nation.
TSU forced 20-plus turnovers in back-to-back games versus EIU (22 on Jan. 11) and SIUE (24 on Jan. 13). TSU has forced 20-plus turnovers five times this season.
TSU ranks 22nd nationally in turnovers forced (15.89 per game), 37th in scoring defense (66.1 ppg) and 86th in field goal percentage defense (42.3 percent).
This season, TSU held Canisius to 17 points in the second half on Nov. 21 and Alabama State to 16 second-half points on Dec. 12. TSU has held an opponent to 20 or fewer points in a half 16 times in Head Coach Dana Ford's four seasons, including holding Tech to 19 in the first half of the team's victory in Cookeville last year.
This will mark the 66th meeting between the two programs all-time, with Tech owning a slight, 33-32 advantage.
The two teams have split the annual season series each of the past four seasons, with the Tigers' 2-0 season sweep in 2012-13 the last to occur.
Last season, the Golden Eagles claimed the first meeting against the Tigers in Nashville after winning, 80-74, in overtime on Jan. 19.
TSU answered with a 72-59 victory over the Golden Eagles in Cookeville on Feb. 9.
Once again this season, the Golden Eagles traveled to Nashville and used an extra five minutes on the clock to down their in-state rival. Tech won in overtime for the second straight year, 87-81.
Curtis Phillips Jr. was heroic on his way to a then career-high 28 points, sinking 8-of-16 shots and 5-of-8 3-pointers. He added seven rebounds, four assists and three steals in a career-high 43 minutes.
Shaq Calhoun also came up huge, scoring a season-best 23 points on 7-for-15 shooting and impressive 6-for-12 showing from beyond the arc. His 3-pointer with 12 seconds to play tied the ball game and forced overtime.
Tech (17-12) 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 offense soared in Clarksville for the Golden Eagles, as the team shot 53.1% from the floor, 52.6% from beyond the arc and 72.7% from the charity stripe. It marked Tech's highest field goal percentage in OVC play this season and the team's best showing from downtown since hitting at 54.5% in shootout victory at New Mexico in November. The team's 86 points were its highest output since defeating the Govs 86-74 in Cookeville in January.
The Golden Eagles are attempting 24.0 free throw attempts at home in 12 games this season as opposed to just 19.5 attempts at the line in 15 contests on the road. In the team's two neutral site match-ups, Tech attempted 20.5 free throws per game.
After claiming an 86-80 victory at Austin Peay, Tech sits an impressive 11-3 in games decided by single digits in 2017-18, proving the veteran presence of the Golden Eagle lineup is paying off (see page 11).
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.
After receiving 22 points of scoring from its bench against Southeast Missouri, the Golden Eagles are now 9-2 on the year when the bench scores at least 21 points. The two losses? A five-point defeat at a one-loss Central Michigan squad and the team's loss at Indiana.
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.
With wins over Omaha and Maryland Eastern Shore to take the Emerald Coast Classic title, Tech won its first early season tournament since claiming 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 games, including 15 for the women and 14 for the men.
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.
Photo by Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information