By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Tech men's basketball team will play its final regular season home game of the 2018-19 campaign Saturday evening, playing host to Morehead State at 7:30 p.m. CT on Senior Night.
Golden Eagle players Courtney Alexander II and Malik Martin, as well as senior manager Ezra Pinzur, will all be honored in a ceremony to be held following the conclusion of the Tech women's game and prior to the start of warm ups for the men's game.
Tennessee Tech (7-21, 3-12) vs. Morehead State (10-18, 6-9)
Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019
7:30 p.m. CT
Eblen Center (7,500) – Cookeville, Tenn.
This marks the 152nd meeting all-time between the two programs, with Morehead State owning an 85-66 lead in the series. The Golden Eagles own a 42-21 series lead over Morehead when playing in Cookeville.
This match-up marks the second-longest series in program history, with the Golden Eagles' rivalry with Murray State the only one with more contests (183).
Morehead has won eight of the past 10 match-ups between the two teams. The two programs have split their season series each of the past two years, with the home team coming out on top in each of the past five contests.
Last season, Tech defeated the Eagles in Cookeville in the conference opener, 69-67. Curtis Phillips Jr. posted a double-double off the bench with a team-high 17 points and 10 rebounds. He snagged an offensive board and threw it up for a layup with one second to play to give Tech the win.
Returning to Morehead, the Eagles got the better end of Tech in a 74-55 decision. Phillips led the Golden Eagles again, scoring 18 points.
This season, the Golden Eagles fell at Morehead, 67-61, despite a career outing from point guard Jr. Clay. The rookie poured in 26 points with five assists in a whopping 39 minutes of action. Micaiah Henry scored 12 points with six boards and Courtney Alexander II snagged 11 rebounds.
Freshman Jared Sherfield had a breakout performance off the bench for the Golden Eagles against Eastern Kentucky, shattering his previous career mark with a game-high 19 points. He added eight rebounds for good measure while playing a career-high 29 minutes.
Micaiah Henry added 16 points, five boards and three blocks while Courtney Alexander II hauled in a game-high 14 rebounds. Jr. Clay chipped in 14 points, six assists and five rebounds while Hunter Vick tallied 11 points and six boards.
Vick just missed out on tying the Tech program record for consecutive free throws made, finishing 7-for-8 at the line. He made his first six of the contest, totaling 28 straight converted freebies, just two shy of the school mark of 30 held by Jud Dillard (2012-13) and Maurice Houston (1993-94). Greg Bibb made 29 straight during the 1994-95 campaign.
After rejecting three more shots against Eastern Kentucky, junior big man Micaiah Henry remained in fifth place on Tech's all-time career records list for blocks with 107. He became just the fifth player in program history to block at least 100 shots in his career in Tech's contest at Southeast Missouri. He needs four 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 14.4 points per game ranks as the second best in program history among freshmen. Vick currently averages 11.1 points per game.
With 14 points against Eastern Kentucky, Clay has now recorded 21 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. Against Belmont, he became just the fourth Tech rookie to reach the 20 double-digit performance plateau, joining Wise with 25, Stephen Kite with 21 (1982-83) and Anthony Avery with 20 (1985-86).
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 Thomas Corhern