Eastern Illinois (4-10) at Tennessee Tech (8-9)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Thursday, January 9, 8 p.m. (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Eblen Center (9,280) -- Cookeville, Tennessee. Television: None. Home Record: EIU 3-4, TTU 5-1. Away Record: EIU 1-6, TTU 3-6. Neutral Record: EIU 0-0, TTU 0-2. Conference Record: EIU 1-2, TTU 1-1. Series Record: Tennessee Tech leads, 22-13.
GAME NOTES: The Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles will try to regain their footing, as they open up a three-game homestand on Thursday night against the Eastern Illinois Panthers.
The Panthers could also use a victory in this contest, as they have lost back- to-back games, and eight of their last nine overall. Such a long stretch of futility has Eastern Illinois at just 4-10 overall, including a miserable 1-6 mark on the road. The Panthers will be away from home yet again this Saturday when they play at Jacksonville State.
Tennessee Tech fell just short in a 64-62 final against Belmont last Saturday. The loss was the third in the last five games for the Golden Eagles, who have fallen below .500 on the season (8-9), and are an even 1-1 in Ohio Valley Conference play. Playing at home should help them, as they have won five of six tests at the Eblen Center, where they will be again on Saturday against SIU-Edwardsville.
In just one meeting last season, Tennessee Tech earned a 77-73 victory. The win was the fourth in the last five matchups for the Golden Eagles, who also lead the all-time series by a 22-13 margin.
Reggie Smith finished with a game-high 20 points for Eastern Illinois when it faced Morehead State last Saturday. However, the Panthers allowed the Eagles to reach the free-throw line 47 times, while getting only 25 attempts themselves. The 34-17 difference in points from the stripe was the deciding factor in the game.
With how poorly the Panthers perform on offense, they can ill afford to give opponents extra opportunities. Eastern Illinois is ranked last in the OVC in scoring (63.3 ppg) and just third in field goal percentage (.413). The Panthers struggle to work in unison, placing 11th in the conference in assists (10.8 apg). Smith (12.9 ppg) is not prone to many 20-point outbursts, but as the team's leader in scoring and minutes played, he is certainly the most likely candidate to do so. Sherman Blanford (11.1 ppg, 5.9 rpg) is another decent scorer, and Chris Olivier (10.6 ppg) has been solid despite appearing in only five games.
Free-throws also played a role in Tennessee Tech's undoing against Belmont, as the Golden Eagles and Bruins each had 21 field goals and five 3-pointers, but the Bruins held a narrow 17-15 edge at the charity stripe, while hitting 10- of-13 attempts over the final 20 minutes.
In comparison to the Panthers, Tennessee Tech is an offensive juggernaut. The Golden Eagles are netting 72.8 ppg and shooting just under 45 percent from the floor. However, those marks are only good enough to rank sixth and seventh, respectively, in the OVC. Jeremiah Samarrippas (8.4 ppg) connects on a mere 36.6 percent of his shots from the floor, but he connected on 5-of-9 for a team-high 16 points against Belmont. The title of leading scorer is often shared, as Ty Allen (10.3 ppg) sits atop the list right now, and six total players net at least seven ppg.
The more varied scoring options for Tennessee Tech make it a much more effective offensive unit. Expect the Golden Eagles to get back on track against an Eastern Illinois squad that just doesn't have the punch to knock off teams away from home.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Tennessee Tech 70, Eastern Illinois 62
01/09 10:36:26 ET