Bolstered by Thursday's rout of Tennessee State that broke a two-game losing streak, Southeast Missouri State University now looks to upset one of the Ohio Valley Conference heavyweights.
Two-time defending OVC regular-season champion Tennessee Tech is not at the top of the league standings, but the Golden Eagles (12-8, 5-2 OVC) still figure to present quite a challenge for the Indians (8-11, 3-4) tonight at the Show Me Center.
"They're a very good basketball team. They're big, and they've got good athletes," Southeast coach Gary Garner said. "They've basically got most of their key players back from last year, and everybody expected them to be real good again."
The Eagles have had somewhat of an up-and-down season so far under first-year coach Mike Sutton, a former Kentucky assistant who took over the program after Jeff Lebo left for Chattanooga. Lebo led Tech to a 47-16 record the past two seasons, including a 27-7 mark last year when the Eagles advanced to the NIT quarterfinals.
But the Eagles, after starting conference play with two straight losses, have posted five consecutive victories. They won at Eastern Illinois 69-61 Thursday night.
"I think they've probably got things going pretty good again," Garner said. "It looks like they've been playing well lately."
Damien Kinloch, a South Carolina transfer who was last season's OVC Newcomer of the Year, is one of the league's top inside players. The 6-foot-8, 230-pound senior is sixth in the conference in scoring (15.6), third in rebounding (8.1) and sixth in field-goal percentage (56.9).
"He's really a good player, one of the best big men in the conference without question," Garner said.
Also averaging in double figures for the Eagles are 6-6 senior guard Brent Jolly (11.2), who is third in the OVC in 3-point percentage (41.5), and 6-4 junior guard Cameron Crisp (10.9).
Another major inside weapon for the Eagles is 6-8, 235-pound senior Greg Morgan, who averages 8.9 points and shoots 61.9 percent from the field to rank fourth in the conference.
Considering Southeast has struggled with interior defense most of the season, particularly in recent weeks, Garner knows the Kinloch-Morgan tandem could pose plenty of problems for the Indians.
"Their strength is their two guys inside," Garner said. "They do a really good job of getting the ball to them, and they're tough to contain. A big key to the game will be how well we can defend those two inside."
The Eagles feature a stout defense that leads the OVC in most major categories, including points allowed (65.8 per game), field-goal percentage allowed (39.7) and 3-point percentage allowed (29.7). Tech is the league's top rebounding team with a margin of more than plus five.
"It's going to be a big challenge for us," Garner said. "We're going to have to play really well."
Southeast is in sixth place in the nine-team OVC but just one game out of fourth place. The top four finishers earn home games for the first round of the conference tournament.
"A win would be really big for us," Garner said. "It would put us right up there near the first division of the conference."
The Indians figure to have a healthy amount of confidence following Thursday's 87-67 romp past Tennessee State. Southeast shot better than 60 percent in the first half in building a 55-25 lead and was never threatened.
"That should be a good confidence boost for us," said senior forward Tim Scheer, who scored a career-high 32 points Thursday. "Beating Tennessee Tech would be really big. They're a really good team."
Scheer is one of five Southeast players averaging in double figures. Sophomore guard Derek Winans leads the way at 15.2 points per game, followed by Scheer (13.2), junior center Brandon Griffin (11.5), junior forward Damarcus Hence (11.3) and sophomore guard Brett Hale (11.1).
Griffin is tied for the OVC rebounding lead with 10.4 per game. Hale leads the league in free-throw percentage at 93.2 and has made 41 of 44.
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