By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Tech men's basketball team wraps up its two-game road trip Saturday afternoon, visiting Martin, Tenn. for a tilt with UT Martin. The Ohio Valley Conference contest is scheduled for a 3:30 p.m. CT tip.
Tennessee Tech (7-17, 3-8) at UT Martin (7-15, 2-9)
Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019
3:30 p.m. CT
Elam Center (4,300) – Martin, Tenn.
This marks the 51st meeting all-time between the two programs, with Tech owning a 37-13 lead in the series. The Golden Eagles hold edge between the two programs when playing Martin, a 15-7 advantage.
Tech has won just two of the past five match-ups, but did claim last year's tilt in Cookeville. Prior to the Golden Eagle win, UT Martin had won three in-a-row. Before the Skyhawks run of three straight, however, Tech dominated, winning eight consecutive match-ups between 2010 and 2014.
The Golden Eagles have found their offense recently when playing in the Elam Center, averaging 87.8 points per game in their last four contests in Martin. Tech is 3-1 in those tilts, with a 96-90 loss in its last appearance the only blemish.
In last season's meeting, the offense was hard to come by for both teams, but the Golden Eagles prevailed, 63-55. Curtis Phillips Jr. led Tech with 17 points while Mason Ramsey (12) and Shaq Calhoun (11) joined him in double figures.
Courtney Alexander II just missed a double-double, scoring nine points and hauling in a team-high 11 rebounds. Kajon Mack also narrowly missed a double-double, posting nine points and eight boards.
For the fifth straight game, freshman Jr. Clay led the Golden Eagles in scoring at Southeast Missouri, tallying 22 points with five assists and a pair of steals. It marked his sixth 20-point affair of the season, the second most such performances by a freshman in program history.
Senior forward Courtney Alexander turned in arguably his best performance as a Golden Eagle, dropping a career-high 20 points with 13 rebounds for his fourth double-double of the season. The Tech veteran hit 8-of-14 free throws and blocked two shots while playing 43 minutes.
Junior big man Micaiah Henry ranks second in the OVC in field goal percentage with at least five attempts per game, hitting 60.5 percent of his shots from the floor. His current mark would rank in the top 10 in school history for a single season. Greg Morgan's 67.1 percent clip during the 2001-02 campaign and Alfred Jones' 66.7 percent showing in 2009-10 rank first and second, respectively.
After rejecting three more shots at Southeast Missouri, Henry moved into fifth place on Tech's all-time career records list for blocks with 101. He became just the fifth player in program history to block at least 100 shots in his career. He needs 10 rejections to pass Anthony Morse (2012-16) and move into fourth place.
Freshmen Jr. Clay and Hunter Vick are both on pace to become the first Tech rookies to average double figures in scoring since Bruce Oglesby averaged 11.5 points per game in 1990-91. They would represent the first Golden Eagle teammates to average double figures as freshmen since Pete Abuls (13.3) and Paul Chadwell (11.6) during the 1978-79 campaign. Clay's current scoring average of 14.3 points per game ranks as the second best in program history among freshmen.
With 22 points at Southeast Missouri, Clay has now recorded 17 double-digit scoring efforts this season. He is on pace to finish with 23 such games this year, a mark that would rank second all-time among Golden Eagle freshmen behind only Earl Wise's 25 in 1986-87. Only three Tech rookies have reached the 20 double-digit performance plateau; Wise with 25, Stephen Kite with 21 (1982-83) and Anthony Avery with 20 (1985-86). Rounding out the top-five is Pete Abuls with 19 (1978-79) and Marc Burnett with 17 (1977-78).
The 2018-19 schedule has proven one of the most daunting for the Golden Eagles in program history. Preseason rankings placed it as the first season in team history where the Golden Eagles faced three preseason top-10 teams. (No. 6 Tennessee, No. 8 North Carolina and No. 10 Michigan State).
Those teams were ranked as follows when Tech made its visit during the non-conference slate: No. 3 Tennessee, No. 7 North Carolina and No. 11 Michigan State.
Tech faced three different top-15 teams just one other time in school history, back in 1993-94. Then head coach Frank Harrell's squad took on No. 1 Kentucky, No. 12 Indiana and No. 14 UConn throughout the season.
Tech was predicted to finish fifth overall in the 2019 OVC race in voting by the league's head coaches and SIDs.
The 2018-19 Tech roster features 17 players (13 scholarship student-athletes) representing five states.
Ten Golden Eagle players hail from the state Tennessee, while Georgia boasts a total of three Tech players. Florida represents home to two Golden Eagles while both Alabama and Illinois are represented by one Tech player each.
Tech has two graduate students, two seniors, four juniors, one sophomore, one redshirt freshman and seven true freshmen.
Ten Golden Eagles stand 6-foot-5 or taller while the other seven measure in at 6-foot-4 or shorter.
A whopping 11 members are new to the Tech squad for 2018-19, including Spencer Chandler, Jr. Clay, Garrett Golday, Malik Martin, Chris McNeal, Caden Mills, Chase Ridenour, Jared Sherfield, Tyler Thompson, Johnnie Vassar and Reece Wilkinson.
WINDS OF CHANGE
Last year, the Golden Eagles returned 71.0 percent of their scoring. This season, things look a little different for the purple and gold. Just 19.4 percent of Tech's points will return in 2018-19.
In 2017-18, seven of TTU's top eight scorers returned to help lead the team to 19 wins. This season, the Golden Eagles have lost their top five scorers from last year, all of which averaged double figures.
Senior Courtney Alexander II represents the top returner at 6.8 points per game.
Tech represents the only OVC team in the league not returning at least one of its top five scorers from a season ago.
Alexander also marks the only returning starter from 2017-18, making 32 starts in 33 games. He led the team in both rebounds and blocks last season.
Tennessee State is the only other team in the OVC returning just one starter from last season. The team also hired a new head coach in the offseason.
Tech's five returning players who saw action in 2017-18 ranks the Golden Eagles as the second-lowest in the league behind Southeast Missouri's four. Belmont also returns just five players from last year.
Overall, the Golden Eagles return just 27.1 percent of their total minutes played from 2017-18, the 12th lowest percentage in the nation. Of Tech's opponents in 2018-19, only Chattanooga returns less (15.2 percent).
Photo by Tony Marable