By Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – In the navy corner, with seven Ohio Valley Conference regular-season titles, six OVC tournament crowns and six NCAA appearances, a 2021-22 record of 12-7, 8-2 in the OVC – from Nashville – Belmont.
In the white corner, with 18 OVC regular-season titles, nine OVC tournament championships and 10 NCAA appearances, a 2021-22 record of 14-7, 9-2 in the OVC – in their home arena in Cookeville – Tennessee Tech.
Let's get ready to rumble.
It'll be a showdown at the Hooper Eblen Center on Saturday night as the Golden Eagles entertain the Bruins. Tipoff is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Roger Ealey will handle the broadcast duties for 106.1 The Eagle, Dylan Vazzano and Frank Harrell will have the call on ESPN+ (subscription required) and the trio of Sam Brooks and Mark and Mindy Odom will narrate the action locally on WCTE.
To call Saturday's game a battle is an understatement. While the Golden Eagles have seven games remaining in the regular season, Belmont eight with a contest Monday night at UT Martin, there's still a lot that can happen in the month leading up to the main event, the OVC Basketball Championships in Evansville, Ind.
That's not to say that Saturday's bout is any less important. Both teams are working toward claiming one of the two merit-based byes in the bracket, plus having a little bit of a cushion in the standings wouldn't be too bad either.
Belmont knows the pain of having the visiting team come into their home arena and walking off defeated. There's no question the Bruins would love to return the favor on Saturday night. Since the two left off on January 22, Belmont lost again at Austin Peay for the team's first consecutive OVC losses since opening the 2015-16 with defeats at Southeast Missouri and SIUE. The Bruins bounced back with a 73-48 home win over UT Martin and a 85-46 win at Tennessee State.
The Golden Eagles, meanwhile, extended their winning streak to seven games and have won 12 of their last 14 outings since their challenging non-conference slate started to draw to a close. Since edging Belmont 57-55 at the Curb Event Center, Tech topped Eastern Illinois (65-60) and Austin Peay (59-56) at home, before taking road victories at UT Martin (67-56) and Morehead State (87-69).
Tech holds a slim half-game lead over the Bruins, while Austin Peay (7-3), Murray State (7-4), Eastern Illinois (6-4), Tennessee State (6-5), SIUE (5-5) and UT Martin (3-6) round out the projected tournament field if the regular season ended as things stand today.
So for the tale of the tape – Belmont is averaging 69.5 points per game, while allowing an average of 58.2. The team is shooting .427 from the floor, .338 from 3-point range and .707 from the free-throw line. They outrebound teams on average of 35.8 to 34.6, pass the ball well with 303 assists, blocked 73 shots and have 59 more steals and 51 fewer turnovers than their competition.
The numbers become a little more dramatic in conference competition. The Bruins are outscoring their league compatriots 75.9 to 54.0, outrebounding 38.1 to 30.6, have 107 more assists, 36 fewer turnovers and 39 more steals. They're shooting .469 from the field, .370 from long range and .720 at the stripe.
In league play only, Belmont has three double-digit scorers, led by Madison Bartley with 14.6 points and 5.4 rebounds. Destinee Wells leads the team in scoring across all games at 15.1 ppg, but the average drops to 13.7 in OVC competition. Tuti Jones (10.9 ppg) is also a scoring threat in the league.
Tech leads the all-time series 28-25 as the two teams enter their last regular-season game as conference opponents, though Belmont is 16-2 against the Golden Eagles since 2014 and 16-5 as OVC foes. The Bruins are 9-8 all-time in the Eblen Center, but 8-0 in the last eight meetings in Cookeville.
When the two teams last met, Anna Jones was only just starting to heat up. During the team's current seven-game winning streak, she leads the team in scoring with a 14.9-point average, as well as rebounding with 7.6 boards per game in the run. She has two double-doubles – against Eastern Illinois and UT Martin – and was named the OVC co-Player of the Week on Tuesday, making a case for a second-straight week with 21 points against Morehead State on Thursday after scoring 25 and pulling down 12 boards against the Skyhawks.
In conference-only stats, Jones leads the team in scoring and rebounds with 13.8 points and 7.3 caroms. Tech is also getting double-digit averages from Mackenzie Coleman (11.7) and Anna Walker (11.1), with Jada Guinn just on the cusp at 9.9. Guinn is also averaging 5.5 boards with 38 assists, while Jones, Guinn and Coleman are leading the team in steals in league play with 17, 16 and 14 respectively.
In league play, Tech is outscoring opponents 69.6 to 62.7, outrebounding 34.3 to 29.6, has 13 more assists and six fewer steals, 29 more blocks, and is shooting .444 from the field, .344 from 3 and .714 from the stripe.
Across all games, Jones is averaging 12.3 points and Coleman 11.9 with Guinn just behind at 9.3. Jones is averaging 6.7 rebounds, while Coleman is averaging 5.2 and Guinn 5.0. Tech is shooting .442, .323 from beyond the arc and .711 from the line, staying pretty consistent to the league averages. The Golden Eagles have blocked 71 shots – 26 from Coleman and 16 from Walker – with a 35.0-to-30.3 rebounding average.
When the two teams met on January 22, it was a battle from start to finish. Tech led nearly the entire game, but Jones drained the go-ahead layup with five seconds remaining, then Belmont missed two shot attempts as time ticked away to give the Golden Eagles the victory. It stands to reason that Saturday's game in the Eblen Center could be just as thrilling.
Tickets for Saturday's contest are on sale. To order, call (931) 372-3940, visit the Hooper Eblen Center ticket office or visit TTUsports.com.
Photo | Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information