By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Tech men's basketball team will embark on its first trip to the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament since 2017-18, squaring off with in-state rival Austin Peay Wednesday evening at the Ford Center in Evansville, Ind.
Tip is scheduled for 9:00 p.m. CT with the No. 7 seeded Golden Eagles taking on the No. 6 seeded Govs for the third time this season and the final time as OVC rivals with Austin Peay set to join the Missouri Valley Conference for the 2022-23 athletic year.
Fans can follow the action on ESPN+, with Connor Onion and Marcus Wilson on the call, or on 106.1 The Eagle with Dylan Vazzano and Frank Harrell providing radio coverage of the contest.
Should the Golden Eagles advance past the Governors, Tech will take on No. 3 seeded Morehead State Thursday evening in another 9:00 p.m. match-up. A victory over the Eagles would pit the purple and gold versus No. 2 Belmont on Friday night, a 9:30 p.m. start set for that affair. The men's championship tilt is slated for a 7:30 p.m. tip on Saturday.
#7 Tennessee Tech (10-20) vs. #6 Austin Peay (12-16)
Wednesday, Mar. 2, 2022
9:00 p.m. CT
Ford Center – Evansville, Ind.
Wednesday marks the 150th meeting all-time between Tech and Austin Peay, with the Golden Eagles owning a 76-73 lead in the series.
This match-up marks the longest in-state rivalry for the Golden Eagles and the third-longest running series in terms of contests in program history. Tech has only faced Murray State (188) and Morehead State (158) more often than Austin Peay.
The Govs hold an 8-4 series advantage over the Golden Eagles when playing at a neutral site. Austin Peay took the win in the two teams' most recent tilt in the OVC Tournament, defeating Tech 92-72 on its way to winning the league's postseason event as the No. 8 seed.
Austin Peay has claimed victory in each of the two squads' last three meetings in the OVC Tournament, with Tech's last victory coming in an 86-77 decision back on Mar. 1, 2002. Tech would finish with a program-record 27 wins to just seven losses that season, making a run to the quarterfinals of the NIT.
In the tilt, Tech was led by Jason Harrell's 19 points of the bench courtesy of four makes from beyond the arc. Damien Kinloch produced a double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds while Joey Westmoreland just missed his own while scoring 15 points to nine boards. Cameron Crisp rounded out the double-digit scoring with 13 points while DeAntoine Beasley flirted with a double-double while posting eight points and eight assists.
Austin Peay's Nick Stapleton went off for 36 points in the losing effort, while Rhet Wierzba added 14 and Adrian Henning turned in 11.
Tech fell to Peay in this year's first game in Cookeville, rallying from a 20 point deficit with just under 12 minutes to play to get a look at a game-tying shot. The Govs held on for the 58-55 victory.
In Tech's 73-69 win in Clarksville, it was John Pettway leading the way, exploding for a season-high 22 points on 7-for-8 shooting with seven rebounds and scoring each of the team's final seven points.
The Golden Eagles came out on top in their final contest of the regular season, earning an 88-75 victory over UT Martin on Senior Night in the Hooper Eblen Center.
With a 73-69 win at Austin Peay on Saturday, Tech clinched its first OVC Tournament berth since the 2017-18 season. That season was also the last time the Golden Eagles won four-of-five contests.
Tech outlasted Southeast Missouri in a barn-burner last Thursday, pulling off the 98-94 win in the Hoop. The team's 98 points marked the most against a Division I opponent since dropping 104 in a victory in the Pit at New Mexico on Nov. 21, 2017.
Six Golden Eagles scored in double figures in the win, a first since Nov. 16, 2017 against Boyce College.
The Golden Eagles dropped 84 points in their win over Eastern Illinois in Cookeville, marking the first time the team scored 80+ in back-to-back games since defeating Martin Methodist 83-70 and falling to Wright State in overtime, 85-80, back on Nov. 9 and Nov. 12, respectively.
The purple and gold dished out 24 assists in the home win over SEMO, moving to 6-2 this season when doling out 20+ helpers.
Tech's home loss to Belmont marked the sixth consecutive loss in overtime for the Golden Eagles, with the team's last triumph in extra time coming in a 78-69 win against SIUE back on Jan. 10, 2019.
Kenny White Jr. went off for 23 points in Tech's win over SIUE, while Jr. Clay chipped in 20 of his own off the bench, as well as five dimes and four steals. It marked the first time this season a pair of Golden Eagles scored 20+ points in the same game.
When Tech squared off with SIUE Thursday, it marked 35 days between home games for the purple and gold, with the last coming against Montreat College on Dec. 16, 2021. The gap ranks in the top-10 in the country this season.
With a 76-70 victory at UT Martin last Saturday, Tech picked up its first road win since a 62-60 decision over Southeast Missouri on Feb. 20, 2020 and the first of this season.
When the Golden Eagles suited up against Belmont Jan. 13, it had been 23 days since Tech's most recent contest, a 76-67 loss at Cincinnati back on Dec. 21, 2021.
The 23-day hiatus from the hardwood marked the longest in-season break since the 2015-16 season, which featured a whopping 26-day stretch between contests. That year, Tech fell to Austin Peay in the first round of the OVC Tournament on Mar. 2, 2015 and later competed in the first-ever and only Vegas 16 Tournament against Old Dominion on Mar. 28, 2016.
It also represented the longest regular-season break for the purple and gold since the 1960-61 campaign. Tech had an incredible 28 days between contests at Morehead State on Dec. 10, 1960 and at Murray State on Jan. 7, 1961.
In Tech's huge, 117-60 victory over Montreat, the Golden Eagles tied a 21-year-old program record, dishing out an eye-popping 36 assists. The purple and gold's previous contest with 36 helpers came against Toccoa Falls on Jan. 11, 2000.
The two guards were the first Tech pair to combine for at least 19 assists since Maurice Houston (15) and Rob West (7) teamed up for 22 in a 97-79 win over Morehead State on Jan. 11, 1993.
They are just the fourth duo in program history to post 19 assists in a single game, joining Houston and West in 1993, Van Usher (14) and Bobby McWilliams (6) in 1990, and Van Usher (17) and Mitch Cupples (2) in 1990).
In the team's loss against UNC Asheville, the Golden Eagles finished 0-for-21 from 3-point range, the first time Tech completed a contest without a make from beyond the arc since Feb. 10, 2011.
Tech was predicted to finish 8th overall in the 2021-22 OVC race in voting by the league's head coaches and SIDs.
Serving as team captains for the Golden Eagles in 2021-22 are Jr. Clay, Keishawn Davidson, Shandon Goldman, John Pettway, and Diante Wood. It marks the third-straight year serving as captains for both Clay and Davidson.
In the 2021-22 campaign, Tech will square off with eight of the 11 other Division I state institutions, including contests against Austin Peay, Belmont, Chattanooga, Lipscomb, Memphis, Tennessee State, Tennessee, and UT Martin.
TOP IN THEIR STATES
Four of Tech's players for the 2021-22 season boast a particularly impressive feat as part of their respective resumes, all finishing as finalists for the Mr. Basketball Award for their state during their high school careers.
Junior guard Jr. Clay was a two-time finalist at the TSSAA Division II Class AA level while at The McCallie School in Chattanooga, earning the honor in 2017 and again in 2018.
Sophomore guard CJ Gettelfinger was one of three finalists at the TSSAA Division II Class A level in 2018 while competing for Grace Christian Academy in Knoxville.
Freshman forward Kenny White Jr. was named a finalist for Kentucky's Mr. Basketball Award in 2020 while starring for Madisonville-North Hopkins High School in Madisonville, Ky.
Transfer guard Diante Wood was named the runner-up for Alabama's Mr. Basketball Award in 2018, prepping as a four-start recruit at Sacred Heart Catholic High School in Anniston, Ala.
Head coach John Pelphrey, a University of Kentucky Hall of Famer, was a Mr. Basketball Award winner during his high school days, claiming the honor for Paintsville High School in 1987.
The 2021-22 Tech roster features 16 players (13 scholarship student-athletes) representing six states and three countries.
Five Golden Eagle players hail from the state of Tennessee, while Alabama boasts three Tech players and Georgia features a pair. Arkansas, California, and Kentucky each claim one Tech player.
Three international players round out the roster, including one Golden Eagle from Canada and two more from Mali.
Tech has two graduate students, three juniors, six sophomores, and five freshmen.
Nine Golden Eagles stand 6-foot-6 or taller while the other seven measure in at 6-foot-5 or shorter.
Seven members are new to the Tech squad for 2021-22, including five Division I transfers. Joining the Tech forces from other Division I institutions, are Diante Wood (Jacksonville/Alabama), Daniel Ramsey (Xavier), Mamoudou Diarra (Cincinnati), Caleb Christopher (Arizona State), and John Pettway (South Alabama).
Photo by Jim Dillon