(Sept. 23, 2021) - Returning back to a more traditional campaign with a full non-conference slate of action, the Tennessee Tech men's basketball team announced its 2021-22 schedule Wednesday for its third season under the direction of head coach John Pelphrey.
"It's going to be basketball season and that's always challenging by itself," Pelphrey said. "We're excited about the opportunity. We've had a really good spring and summer, which is really the first time our program has been able to do that since we got here. We think we have great, young men who are of high character. We feel like we have enough depth with 17 total players on our basketball team, so it's going to come down to how much work we put in and how well we get along. That's what we're actively trying to do right now, just put in the work and really develop deep-rooted relationships."
After featuring just seven non-conference contests in 2020-21, including only a single one in the comfort of the Hooper Eblen Center, the 2021-22 campaign will present 13 tests against opponents outside the Ohio Valley Conference, plus one exhibition contest. On the positive side for the Golden Eagles, five of those tilts, as well as the exhibition, will take place in Cookeville, providing fans more opportunities to see the purple and gold in person.
"I think everyone is excited to be able to play at home," Pelphrey expressed. "To have fans in your home arena is always nice. We want to build something here that is competitive and is good basketball, something that is good for the players to learn, grow, get better, and have fun. But it's also for our fans, the people of Cookeville, the former players, and the people that work here to have something that they can take pride in. We're certainly very excited about the chance to have a more traditional, non-conference schedule at home."
Before the traditional start to the season, fans will have a chance for a sneak preview of the Golden Eagles with an exhibition contest against Berea on Thursday, Oct. 28 with the return of Purple Palooza.
From there, Tech kicks off the new season with a test against defending National Invitation Tournament (NIT) champion Memphis on Tuesday, Nov. 9. The Tigers won 20 games a season ago, finishing 11-4 in American Athletic Conference play before defeating Dayton, Boise State, Colorado State, and Mississippi State in success for the NIT title.
A match-up with Oakwood University represents the home opener for the purple and gold, a game scheduled for Nov. 14 in the Eblen Center. Tech will also see in-state foes in the Hoop with a Nov. 23 affair with Lipscomb and a Nov. 30 tilt against Chattanooga, both of which made their respective conference tournaments a year ago. Also visiting Cookeville in non-conference action is Troy, which won a Sun Belt Tournament game last season, on Dec. 11 and Kentucky Christian on Dec. 16.
On the road, Tech will make a visit to Chattanooga on Nov. 16, squaring off with a Mocs squad that finished 18-8 last season with a 9-0 start for the first of two match-ups on the year. Two days later, the purple and gold make the trek east for a match-up with UNC Asheville in North Carolina. The Bulldogs earned a 9-5 mark in the Big South in 2020-21.
The day following Thanksgiving, Nov. 26, marks another trip to Knoxville for an in-state romp with Tennessee. The Vols turned in an 18-9 last year, making trips to the SEC Tournament semifinals and the NCAA Tournament's first round.
Dec. 4 delivers a visit to Evansville and tilt with the Purple Aces, a team that turned in a seven-game turnaround in Missouri Valley Conference play from the 2019-20 campaign. The Golden Eagles will then return to Cullowhee, N.C. for the second straight season, looking to avenge last year's overtime, buzzer-beating loss to Western Carolina with a Dec. 8 meeting.
Rounding out the non-conference action is a trip to Ohio for a pair of contests. First is a Dec. 18 game at Wright State, a Horizon League squad that finished 2020-21 with an 18-6 regular-season mark and 16-4 record in conference play. Tech will also line up against Cincinnati on Dec. 21. Last season, the Bearkats made their fourth consecutive appearance in the AAC Tournament title contest, falling to No. 7 nationally-ranked Houston.
"There are a lot of challenges there for us to learn, grow, and get better from," Pelphrey explained. "It starts right off with a real challenge in Memphis. There are a lot of teams that had really good seasons last year and have a lot of people coming back that will be very experienced and just as excited about their seasons as we are about ours. Whether it's Memphis, Chattanooga, UNC Asheville, Lipscomb, Evansville, Western Carolina, Troy, Tennessee, or whoever, it's just a big opportunity for us to go out and compete and find out where we are and what we need to get better at."
OVC play begins with a road tilt in Nashville against Tennessee State, a meeting on Dec. 30 at the Gentry Center. Tech will also make visits to Murray State (Jan. 1), Southeast Missouri (Jan. 13), UT Martin (Jan. 15), Belmont (Jan. 22), Morehead State (Feb. 3), Eastern Illinois (Feb. 10), SIUE (Feb. 12), and Austin Peay (Feb. 19).
The Golden Eagles will host Morehead State for their first home OVC contest on Jan. 6 and follow it with a Jan. 8 meeting with Eastern Illinois. Home match-ups also include SIUE (Jan. 20), Murray State (Jan. 27), Austin Peay (Jan. 29), Belmont (Feb. 5), Southeast Missouri (Feb. 17), Tennessee State (Feb. 24), and UT Martin (Feb. 26).
"There are a lot of good teams and a lot of good coaches working very hard in this league," Pelphrey said. "I think you will see some new faces in the coaching ranks, but what you'll see, as you always do, is some good basketball. Certainly, Belmont and Murray State are always the teams you're going to have to contend and deal with, but they're not the only ones. There are a lot of other good coaches and players on these other teams as well. We understand our opportunity and we're looking forward to it. We put a lot of hard work in and we're just looking forward to seeing if we can keep our focus on each other and continue to put more work in."
The OVC Basketball Championships will once again take place at Evansville's Ford Center, scheduled for Mar. 2-5.
"What we're trying to do as a group is to recruit quality student-athletes who are really serious about playing basketball, who develop an understanding of what that takes and how that's supposed to look," Pelphrey expressed," with togetherness, being aggressive, and staying with it. I think if we can do those things, we'll have a chance to be competitive.
"I do think the fans in college basketball, maybe more than any other sport, have the chance to influence outcomes in close games. We certainly hope that everyone that enjoys basketball will want to come out and watch and support a group of guys who are very serious about going to school and serious about playing basketball and, I think, have a chance to play good basketball that they'll enjoy watching."
Season tickets for Tennessee Tech men's basketball are now on sale. To order, call (931) 372-3940, visit the Hooper Eblen Center ticket office or visit TTUSports.com.
Photo courtesy of WKU Athletics