Tech looks for back-to-back wins with Saturday tilt at Eastern Illinois

Tech looks for back-to-back wins with Saturday tilt at Eastern Illinois

By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Tech men's basketball team wraps up its Illinois road trip Saturday afternoon, taking on Eastern Illinois in Charleston in a 3:15 p.m. CT tilt. The contest will follow the Golden Eagle women's team's match-up with the Panthers at 1 p.m.

Tennessee Tech (4-14, 1-4) at Eastern Illinois (8-9, 1-4)
Saturday, Jan. 18, 2020
3:15 p.m. CT
Vadalabene Center (5,400) – Charleston, Ill.

The Broadcasts
TV: None
Radio: 106.1 The Eagle (Dylan Vazzano)
Webcast: ESPN+ 

Saturday marks the 45th meeting all-time between the two programs, with Tech owning a 27-17 lead in the series.

Last year, Tech snapped its nine-game losing streak with a victory in its season finale in Charleston. The win also avenged a loss to the Panthers from the previous season, also in Charleston.

Overall, the two teams split last year's series, with Eastern Illinois edging the Golden Eagles in Cookeville, 67-60. Tech returned the favor on the Panthers' home floor, claiming a 63-57 victory.

Hunter Vick led the offensive charge in the Tech loss at home, dropping 20 points with three triples and a 5-for-5 showing from the charity stripe. Jr. Clay missed the contest with an ankle injury.

Vick also had the best offensive performance in the rematch in Charleston, scoring a team-high 19 points on 4-for-6 shooting from beyond the arc. He played all 40 minutes in the contest as well.

Clay added 14 points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals in the contest, hitting the biggest shot of the day. With Tech trailing by one with 20 seconds to play, the point guard drained a 3-pointer to put the Golden Eagles up for good.

Jared Sherfield also provided 14 points while racking up four steals.

This year's Eastern Illinois squad is led offensively by a trio of players averaging 12.6 points per game. Mack Smith and George Dixon have each posted 215 total on the year while Josiah Wallace has 214.

Smith leads the NCAA (Division I) in consecutive games with a made 3-pointer, hitting at least one in 66 straight contests. He shoots at a 34.7 percent clip from downtown.

Dixon, who joined the Panthers this season, also leads the team in rebounding, hauling in 8.6 boards per game. His 23 steals ranks tops on the squad while his 15 blocks is the second-highest total.

Wallace brings a healthy mix of stats to the table on top of his 12.6 points per game, averaging 4.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists while shooting 45 percent from the floor.

Marvin Johnson rounds out EIU's double-digit scorers, averaging 10.1 points and 4.3 rebounds with a team-high 3.2 assists per game.

Tech captured its first OVC victory of the 2019-20 campaign Thursday evening, winning a thriller at SIUE, 72-69. The contest featured 10 leads changes and 11 ties, as well as double-digit leads on both sides of the scoreboard.

Tech chose the path of resilience rather than backing down, answering its long-time, OVC rivals with a 15-0 stretch of its own. The purple and gold continued to claw back, pulling to within a single point at the break thanks to a buzzer-beating triple from Jr. Clay.

SIUE made its first basket of the second half to take its largest lead of the game of 11 points. From that point on, Tech seemed to seize control. Over the next four minutes, the purple and gold fought and clawed all the way back to tie things up with just under 16 on the clock.

The defense held true down the stretch, allowing the young Tech squad to build a lead all the way out to 10 points following an old-school, three-point play from junior Larry Kuimi. With under eight minutes to play, the Golden Eagles held a 60-50 edge.

The Cougars quickly answered the Tech run, scoring eight straight points to pull within two. Senior guard Darius Allen, playing with four fouls at that point in the contest, made one of the most important shots of the night, hitting a clutch 3-pointer from the corner to snap the SIUE streak and provide some much needed momentum the other way.

Despite the shot, the Cougars eventually found a way to knot things up at 69-69 with just over a minute to play. Tech freshman Tujautae Williams came up with the dagger for the Golden Eagles, however, nailing a floater in the lane with 52 seconds on the clock. The bucket gave Tech the lead for good, allowing the team to lean on its defense to hold on for the victory.

The Golden Eagles dominated the glass on the night, 42-31, including a strong showing on the offensive boards with a 14-7 advantage. Leading that charge was none other than Allen, who narrowly missed a double-double after hauling in nine rebounds and scoring a team-high 15 points. The veteran also blocked a career-high three shots.

Sophomore forward Amadou Sylla had a resurgent night on offense, scoring eight quick points in the first half and finishing with 13 in the contest. He added six boards to the effort as well. Point guard Jr. Clay continued his hot stretch, notching his 11th consecutive double-digit scoring performance with 14 points. He chipped in four rebounds and four assists for good measure. Williams contributed seven rebounds while Wilkinson and Kuimi each added seven points to the mix.

Senior Cade Crosland came up with eight huge points, as well as two timely steals and three assists while posting easily the best plus/minus of the night with a +21. No other player posted higher than a +6 in the contest. Prior to the contest at Lipscomb, Coach Pelphrey and his staff named the team's fifth captain in freshman point guard Keishawn Davidson. Also serving as captains for the young Tech squad in 2019-20 are sophomores Jr. Clay, Hunter Vick and Amadou Sylla, as well as senior Cade Crosland.

With an 83-70 win over Martin Methodist on November 9, Tech head coach John Pelphrey earned his first victory as the leader of the Golden Eagle program.

Pelphrey, who was named the 13th head coach in Golden Eagle history in April, also earned career win No. 150 on the night, the same day the Tech football team earned its 150th victory in Tucker Stadium on the day they celebrated the 150th anniversary of college football.

Both Davidson and Sylla were honored by the OVC on Nov. 11, picking up two of the league's first three weekly honors of the 2019-20 campaign. Davidson was named OVC Freshman of the Week while Sylla was recognized as the OVC Newcomer of the Week.

It marked the first time since 2015-16 that Tech claimed two of the OVC's three weekly accolades.

The last time it occurred was Feb. 1, 2016 when Torrance Rowe won OVC Player of the Week and both Ryan Martin and Hakeem Rogers shared OVC Newcomer of the Week honors.

Tech was predicted to finish 12th overall in the 2019 OVC race in voting by the league's head coaches and SIDs.

The 2019-20 Tech roster features 17 players (13 scholarship student-athletes) representing five states and three countries.

Nine Golden Eagle players hail from the state Tennessee, while Florida and Texas each boast two Tech players. Alabama and Illinois are represented by one Tech player each.

Two international players round out the roster, including one Golden Eagle from Canada and another from Mali.

Tech has three seniors, three juniors, five sophomores, three redshirt freshmen and three true freshmen.

Eleven Golden Eagles stand 6-foot-5 or taller while the other six measure in at 6-foot-4 or shorter.

Seven members are new to the Tech squad for 2019-20, including Darius Allen, Keishawn Davidson, Larry Kuimi, Michael Lolio, Dane Quest, Amadou Sylla and Tujautae Williams.

While the 2019-20 Golden Eagles welcomed in seven new faces to the roster this season, that number doesn't show just how little this team spent together coming into the season. In addition to a brand new coaching staff, 10 of Tech's 17 players had never suited up for the Golden Eagles heading into the season-opener.

Tech players that have or could make their Golden Eagle debut in 2019-20 are senior transfer Darius Allen, JUCO transfers Larry Kuimi, Amadou Sylla and Michael Lolio, true freshmen Keishawn Davidson, Dane Quest and Tujautae Williams, and redshirt freshmen Chase Ridenour, Caden Mills and Reece Wilkinson.

Only two Golden Eagles played at Tech in both 2017-18 and 2018-19, including senior Cade Crosland and junior Maverick Smith. Hunter Vick was on the roster in 2017-18, but redshirted due to an injury.

The 2019-20 Tech roster came into the year with just 58 combined starts at the Division I level, including 31 by Hunter Vick, 19 by Jr. Clay, four by Garrett Golday, three by Jared Sherfield and one by Darius Allen (at Baylor).

Photo by Thomas Corhern