By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Tech men's basketball team makes its return to the Hooper Eblen Center for the longest home stand of the season, beginning with a Thursday night tilt against Morehead State. The Golden Eagles will host their long-time, Ohio Valley Conference rival in a 7:30 p.m. CT match-up in a rematch from the two teams' prior meeting Jan. 4.
Tennessee Tech (4-15, 1-5) vs. Morehead State (9-10, 3-3)
Thursday, Jan. 23, 2020
7:30 p.m. CT
Eblen Center (7,500) – Cookeville, Tenn.
Thursday marks the 154th meeting all-time between the two programs, with Morehead State owning an 87-66 lead in the series.
When competing in Cookeville, the Golden Eagles hold a 42-22 advantage over the Eagles all time.
This match-up marks the second-longest series in program history, one of six with 100 or more contests between the two teams. Tech's rivalry with Murray State represents the only one with more contests (184).
Morehead has won eight of the past 10 match-ups between the two teams. The two programs have split their season series in two of the past three years, with the home team coming out on top in seven of the past eight contests.
The Golden Eagles have won two of their past three home contests against the Eagles. .
Last season, Morehead State claimed close victories in both match-ups, a 67-61 win in Morehead followed by a 66-63 win in Cookeville.
In the first meeting last season, Jr. Clay erupted for a career-high 26 points while playing a whopping 39 minutes. He also dished out five helpers.
The second time around, it was Jared Sherfield enjoying a career performance, dropping 20 points on 4-for-5 shooting from downtown. He also snagged a team-high seven rebounds.
Clay added 15 points and seven assists while Hunter Vick chipped in 10 points and five rebounds.
The Eagles captured victory between the two programs earlier this season, defeating the Golden Eagles in Morehead, 83-72, on Jan. 4.
This year's Morehead State squad is led offensively by Jordan Walker, who averages 13.1 points per game. He adds 3.4 rebounds per contest while hitting 78.1 percent from the free throw line.
Djimon Henson adds 10.3 points and 3.4 boards per game while firing at a 35.1 percent clip from 3-point range. Justin Thomas is close behind with 9.5 points and team-highs of 80 assists and 43 steals.
James Baker adds 9.1 points while Tyzhaun Claude leads the team with 7.1 rebounds per game.
Tech couldn't overcome turnover woes and multiple stretches of offensive inconsistency Saturday afternoon, falling at Eastern Illinois, 84-59.
A tight contest early, the Panthers began to pull away towards the end of the first half as the Golden Eagles struggled to find an identity on offense outside of a brilliant showing by Jr. Clay. The young Tech squad made 11 turnovers in the first 20 minutes of play, falling behind, 43-29, headed into the break.
Clay kept the purple and gold in the contest with his biggest first-half showing of the season, dropping 17 points on 5-for-9 shooting from the floor and a 5-for-6 showing from the charity stripe. He also collected three steals, willing his team to stay in the contest.
In the second half, Eastern Illinois inflated its advantage to 19 points with just over 12 minutes to go, forcing the Golden Eagles to call a timeout. The quick reset seemed to work at first, as Tech hit three consecutive shots from behind the arc to go on a 9-0 run and cut the deficit to just 10. Senior guards Darius Allen and Cade Crosland buried the triples, with Allen draining two.
A Panther timeout shifted the momentum right back to the home team, as the Golden Eagles struggled through a five-minute, scoreless drought and 8-0 run by Eastern Illinois that essentially put the ball game away.
Clay finished the night with a season-high 22 points after drawing constant attention in the second half. The Chattanooga native added three rebounds, two assists and three steals to his all-around solid night. Allen joined his teammate in double figures, hitting a trio of treys and tallying 12 points. He also blocked three shots for the second-straight game.
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.
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.
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