Indians put focus on a strong finish, off OVC home edge

Tuesday, February 11, 2003

Their hopes of a top-four Ohio Valley Conference finish severely hampered because of a three-game losing streak, Southeast Missouri State University's Indians now begin the task of trying to regroup and finish the regular season strong.

"I think that's probably out," Southeast coach Gary Garner said during his weekly media conference Monday. "Mathematically we can still get it, but we would probably have to win four out of our last five."

Saturday's 79-75 home loss to Eastern Kentucky dropped the Indians to 9-14 overall and 4-7 in the OVC. Southeast is in seventh place in the nine-team league.

The Indians still are only two games out of fourth place -- the top four finishers earn first-round OVC Tournament home games -- but they would have to pass three teams to get there with not much time remaining. And the squad currently in fourth place, Eastern Illinois, already has beaten Southeast twice, so the Panthers hold the tie-breaker edge over the Indians.

Also working against the Indians is that four of their final five OVC games are on the road, including two this week against the teams directly above them in the standings -- Tennessee-Martin (12-10, 5-6) Thursday night and Murray State (12-9, 5-5) Saturday night. Saturday's contest will be televised by WPSD-TV.

Gaining momentum and confidence the rest of the way is the Indians' primary focus, according to Garner.

"No question, that will be," he said. "The thing we cannot do is wait on the tournament. There is a lot of pride on this team. The players will play hard. My job is to find that extra motivation."

Griffin honored again with OVC newcomer title

For the fourth time this season, junior center Brandon Griffin is the OVC Newcomer of the Week, the league announced Monday.

Griffin reached double figures in points and rebounds in all three Southeast games last week. He had 18 points and 13 rebounds against Eastern Illinois, 13 points and 12 rebounds against Morehead State, and 17 points and 10 rebounds against Eastern Kentucky.

Griffin, who has 11 double-doubles this season, is the OVC's leading rebounder with 10.7 per game, which ranks ninth nationally. The junior-college transfer is also averaging 12 points a contest.

No other Southeast player is averaging more than four rebounds per game, and Griffin has almost single-handedly allowed the Indians to outrebound their opponents for the season.

"Brandon has just had a tremendous year," Garner. "I don't know where we'd be without him."

Hale expected to return against Tenn.-Martin

Sophomore guard Brett Hale, the Indians' most consistent player in recent weeks, is listed as probable for Thursday's game.

Hale suffered a bruised hip early in the second half against Eastern Kentucky Saturday after scoring 10 points. He did not return. Hale averaged nearly 22 points in the four games prior to Saturday.

"You hate to make excuses, but losing arguably our best player in conference games really hurt us against Eastern Kentucky," Garner said. "It not only hurt our depth, but Brett was playing so well."

Hale, the OVC's leading free-throw shooter at 94.3 percent, has made his last 22 foul shots.

In addition to Griffin and Hale, other OVC individual leaders for the Indians are senior forward Tim Scheer in 3-point shooting (45.6 percent) and sophomore point guard Kevin Roberts in assists (6.2 per game).

Roberts, who also leads the league in assist-to-turnover ratio, actually tied the school single-game assist record with 13 against Morehead State last Thursday. It originally was reported that Roberts broke the mark, but it was discovered that Jerry Freshwater also had 13 assists in a 1995 game against Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Around the OVC

Surprise teams Morehead State (9-2) and Austin Peay (8-2) are at the top of the league standings, but third-place Tennessee Tech (7-3) -- which has won the last two OVC regular-season titles -- will have a chance to do something about that this week.

Tennessee Tech visits Morehead State tonight and Austin Peay Saturday night.

Austin Peay has won seven straight conference games after beating Murray State Saturday, giving the Govs a season sweep of the Racers for the first time since the 1978-79 season.

The struggling Racers (5-5), the OVC preseason favorite, have fallen behind Eastern Illinois (6-5) in the battle for fourth place. The Racers host the Panthers Thursday night.

mmishow@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 132

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