NASHVILLE --- The Tennessee State Tigers hope the experience gained in playing the Ohio Valley Conference's toughest non-conference schedule pays off as the Big Blue moves into conference play beginning with an upcoming swing to Alabama for a pair of games.
The Tigers will journey to second-year OVC members Jacksonville State (Thursday) and Samford (Saturday) to begin the 16-game league schedule. The Tigers carry a misleading 5-9 record into the conference schedule.
TSU has played the likes of Western Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Southern Illinois, Middle Tennessee, Arkansas, Alabama, Iowa State, and Louisville all on the road. TSU has yet to win on an opponent's home court, but the Tigers did come up with wins over Cal State-Northridge and Delaware State to claim fifth place in the Las Vegas Holiday Invitational. The low point was a home 82-80 loss to South Dakota State on Dec. 22.
Second-year head coach Cy Alexander designed the tough non-conference schedule to help prepare his team for the OVC schedule. After going 0-16 the season prior to Alexander's arrival, the Tigers won six league games last season and has gained the attention of the conference as noted by their second place prediction in this year's pre-season poll.
The Tigers will now have a chance to act upon their lofty preseason ranking. However, the Tigers received a key injury when leading scorer and rebounder Rod Flowers went down early with a sprained ankle last Friday at Iowa State in a game that would go to the wire and result in a 67-61 TSU loss. Flowers did not play at Louisville and the OVC's leading rebounder remains questionable for this week's game.
Flowers leads TSU at 15.7 ppg and is averaging 9.5 rpg. Bruce Price averaging 14.9 ppg and is coming off a 24-point performance at Louisville.
Jacksonville State and Samford played the OVC's first game this season. Samford came away with 68-64 overtime victory over their rivals. Samford made 5-of-6 free throws in the final 30 seconds. The Bulldogs were also aided by 10-of-19 shooting from 3-point range.
The Tigers will conclude a stretch where they will have played 12 of their first 16 games on the road. TSU will have its home OVC openers Jan. 13 against Southeast Missouri and Jan. 15 against Eastern Illinois.