By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Tech men's basketball team wraps up its four-game homestand Saturday evening, playing host to Ohio Valley Conference and in-state rival Tennessee State in a 7:30 p.m. CT tilt in the Hooper Eblen Center.
Tennessee Tech (5-17, 2-7) vs. Tennessee State (13-9, 5-4)
Saturday, Feb. 1, 2020
7:30 p.m. CT
Eblen Center (7,500) – Cookeville, Tenn.
Saturday marks the 69th meeting all-time between the two programs, with Tech owning a 35-33 lead in the series. Not the oldest rivalry for either program, the two teams have made up for lost time with more than 65 match-ups since the first contest on Feb. 4, 1980.
When competing in Cookeville, the Golden Eagles hold an 18-15 advantage over the Bruins all time. Last year, the two teams split the season series, with each program collecting victories on the road.
In Nashville, the Golden Eagles used six straight free throws to squeak out a 66-64 victory over the Tigers on their home floor.
Trailing by five, the Tigers' Tripp Davis drew a foul on a 3-point attempt with four seconds to play and went on to make the first two attempts, cutting the Tech advantage to 66-63. His third attempt clanked off the rim, but with the ball popping off of several players' finger tips, Davis corralled his own miss and drew another foul.
After a timeout, Davis sunk his first attempt, knowing he had to miss his second try intentionally with just seventh tenths of a second remaining in regulation and hope for a tip in. He nearly received just that as Stokley Chaffee Jr. grabbed the intentional miss and threw up a shot that caught every bit of the rim.
Thankfully for the Golden Eagles, it caught too much, rolling off and preserving a tough, well-earned victory to kick off the conference season. Jr. Clay led Tech with 23 points on 9-of-13 shooting in the contest.
Back in Cookeville, the Tigers exacted some revenge, defeating Tech 79-62 in a nationally televised contest on ESPNU. Former Golden Eagle Corey Tillery paced the purple and gold with 20 points.
This year's Tennessee State squad is led offensively by Carlos Marshall, Jr., who averages 12.4 points per game. He adds 4.5 rebounds per contest while hitting 77.5 percent from the free throw line.
Michael Littlejohn enters the contest averaging 11.4 points, 3.3 assists and 1.3 steals while pacing the Tigers in 3-point shooting. His 64 makes from beyond the arc ranks third in the league while his 43.6 percent efficieny from deep ranks in the top-five.
Wesley Harris, Jy'lan Washington and Shakem Johnson all add double-figure scoring averages to the mix as well. Harris scores 11.3 points per game while leading the team with 5.8 rebounds per contest.
Washington contributes 10.2 points per game while shooting over 60 percent from the floor and averaging 5.1 boards. Johnson averages 10.0 points and 4.9 rebounds on a team-high 64.3 percent field goal percentage.
What seemed destined to be a low-scoring, back-and-forth battle quickly changed to a different illusion rather quickly for Tech Thursday evening. The close battle flipped to a comfortable lead for the visitors from Belmont, but changed again into a thrilling, comeback bid for the Golden Eagles.
In the end, Belmont held off a furious rally down the stretch by Tech to earn a 92-84 victory. The Bruins used a 20-5 run over the final six minutes of the first half to take a healthy, and seemingly safe lead into the break.
Tech refused to call it quits, however, turning the second half into a free-for-all, barn-burning race to the finish. With 10 minutes to play, and the Bruins still holding a rather decisive looking 19-point advantage, the Golden Eagles began to creep their way back into contention.
The two teams traded some buckets, but the purple and gold needed just two minutes to trim the deficit to 13. Following another four-minute stretch, Tech made it a 10-point contest after hitting back-to-back triples.
Belmont extended it back to 14 with just under 90 second to play, but the Golden Eagles had one more run left in them. Hunter Vick, returning to the mix after missing the past six contests due to injury, hit a jumper just outside the paint and followed it up with a triple after a pair of missed free throws by the Bruins.
Following a missed shot attempt, Tech raced down the court and found fellow Jr. Clay open for another trey, shaving the deficit down to just six points. The Golden Eagles simply ran out of time as Belmont hit a pair of free throws with four seconds to go to end the night.
The Golden Eagles were unconscious on the offensive end in the second half, shooting 63.3 percent (19-of-30) from the floor, 69.2 percent (9-of-13) from 3-point range and 78.9 percent (15-of-19) from the charity stripe. The purple and gold outscored the Bruins, 59-46, in the second period. Tech won the rebound battle, 38-32, and dished out 21 assists on the night as well.
Vick, the Special Olympics Player of the Game, erupted for a season-high 21 points off the bench, sinking all five of his attempts from beyond the arc and hitting each of his four tries at the charity stripe. Darius Allen tied his own career-high with 18 points, connecting on four of his seven shots from 3-point range. He also hauled in a team-high eight rebounds.
Clay turned in a solid night, particularly in the second half, scoring 16 of his 19 points over the final 20 minutes. The Chattanooga native dished out a team-high eight assists and corralled five boards. Keishawn Davidson added eight points and seven assists.
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