Indians take another shot at OVC leader

Thursday, February 6, 2003

When Southeast Missouri State University and Morehead State met earlier this season, the host Eagles had no trouble cruising past the Indians.

Southeast hopes that's not the case tonight when the Ohio Valley Conference teams square off in a rematch at the Show Me Center.

Morehead State, 14-6 overall, is in first place in the OVC at 8-1. The Eagles have won 10 of their last 11 games. Southeast, 9-12 overall, is in a three-way tie for fifth place at 4-5.

"When we played them earlier, it wasn't a very competitive game," Southeast coach Gary Garner said. "But we have gotten a lot better since then. If we play well, hopefully we'll have a chance to win, but it's going to be a really difficult game."

The Eagles, despite finishing second in the OVC last year, were not expected to challenge heavy preseason favorites Murray State and Tennessee Tech for the title this year, although they were picked third in the preseason poll.

But Morehead State shot out of the gate by winning its first eight OVC games before losing at home last Thursday to Austin Peay.

"Morehead State is just a lot better basketball team than I thought they'd be going into the season," Garner said. "They have really played well. Kyle Macy has done a tremendous coaching job."

The Eagles routed the Indians 77-63 on Jan. 11 in Morehead, Ky. -- and the game wasn't nearly as close as that margin suggests.

Morehead State built a 10-point lead midway through the first half, led by 16 at halftime and increased the advantage to 27 before coasting down the stretch.

"We were never really in that game," Garner said.

The Eagles romped despite not getting much offense from Ricky Minard, their star player who scored just 11 points and made only two field goals.

Minard, a 6-foot-4 junior swingman and a leading candidate for OVC Player of the Year honors, averages 20.8 points per game to rank second in the conference behind Eastern Illinois standout Henry Domercant.

Minard, an NBA prospect who is dangerous shooting from the outside as well as slashing to the basket, averaged 22.3 points per game last year and 16.7 as a freshman. He finished last season ranked in the top 15 of every OVC statistical category and holds that distinction again this year.

"He's just a great player, probably the best all-around player in the league," Garner said. "He does so many things well."

A big key to the Eagles' success so far has been 6-3 senior guard Chez Marks, who is averaging 16.3 points per game while shooting nearly 43 percent from 3-point range to rank second in the league.

Marks, who averaged just 8.7 points last year, scored 26 against Southeast in the first meeting.

The Eagles also have one of the OVC's top point guards in 6-foot senior Marquis Sykes, who led the conference in assists last year and has also been first for most of this season before recently falling behind Southeast sophomore Kevin Roberts. Roberts leads with 5.8 per game and Sykes is close behind at 5.55.

Southeast has some other OVC individual leaders as well: Junior center Brandon Griffin in rebounding (10.7), senior forward Tim Scheer in 3-point percentage (43.5) and sophomore guard Brett Hale in free-throw percentage (94.0).

In addition, Indian sophomore guard Derek Winans, who leads the squad in scoring with 15.1 points per game, ranks in the top 10 in six OVC statistical categories.

The Indians had won two straight before losing 85-73 at Eastern Illinois Tuesday night. They have struggled with their defense all season and will face a major challenge in slowing down a potent Morehead State offense that leads the OVC with nearly 81 points per game.

"We didn't play very good defense against Eastern Illinois," said Hale, who led the Indians with 29 points Tuesday and has scored 49 points in the last two games. "We need to do a lot better job against Morehead State."

mmishow@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 132

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