MARTIN, Tenn. -- Porous defense once again did in Southeast Missouri State University's men's basketball team.
The Indians, who have ranked among the Ohio Valley Conference's worst defensive teams all season, saw Tennessee-Martin get just about any shot it wanted during a 77-61 victory Thursday at Skyhawk Arena.
Southeast, losing its fourth straight game, fell to 9-15 overall and 4-8 in the OVC, dropping the Indians into eighth in the nine-team league. Southeast plays at Murray State Saturday night.
UTM improved to 13-10 and 6-6 as the Skyhawks swept the season series from Southeast.
But unlike last month's meeting with Southeast when UTM needed a late rally to force overtime in a win at the Show Me Center, the Skyhawks controlled Thursday's contest most of the way, thanks in large part to 56.9-percent field-goal shooting (29 of 51), including 52.6 percent from 3-point range (10 of 19).
"Our defense was just not very good tonight," Southeast coach Gary Garner said. "We just gave them too many easy baskets."
The Indians entered the contest allowing 75 points per game and opponents were shooting a robust 49.2 percent -- and that latter figure has increased significantly in recent games.
"That has been the story all year, the defensive end of the floor," Garner said. "We're just not a good defensive team, and the last several games have been especially bad."
Said senior forward Tim Scheer, "Our defense has just been pretty bad the last few games. It's definitely possible to improve it, as bad as it's been. We're going to have to."
Southeast shot a solid 50 percent (27 of 54), but they struggled from 3-point range at 21.1 percent (four of 19). And the Indians were outrebounded 32-24 by a team that has been outrebounded by an average of nearly five per game this season.
"There's nothing wrong with us offensively," Garner said. "We're playing well enough offensively, but we just can't stop people."
Senior forward Joey Walker and sophomore guard Jeremy Kelly both scored 17 points to lead the Skyhawks. Walker hit seven of 10 shots and Kelly made seven of nine.
"We were moving the ball a lot better tonight," Kelly said. "We'd been having problems with that, but it was the key to our success tonight."
Junior guard Earl Bullock added 15 points for UTM, all coming on 3-pointers as he made five of eight from beyond the arc. Junior forward Kenan Asceric chipped in 10 points.
Scheer, sophomore guard Derek Winans and junior forward Damarcus Hence all scored 12 points to pace the Indians. Junior center Brandon Griffin had 11 points and eight rebounds. Sophomore guard Brett Hale added 10 points, and sophomore point guard Kevin Roberts recorded seven assists.
Hale, the OVC's leading free-throw shooter at 94.3 percent, saw his streak of 22 consecutive made foul shots end with a second-half miss on his only attempt of the night.
The Indians held several early leads, the last at 11-9 after a Winans 3-pointer. But the Skyhawks used an 8-0 run to go up 17-11, and Southeast fought an uphill battle the rest of the night.
Griffin's fast-break basket pulled the Indians within 25-23, and Hale's 3-pointer with 3:15 left in the first half again sliced Southeast's deficit to two at 30-28.
But UTM answered with an 8-0 run to open a 38-28 lead, and Bullock's 3-pointer with three seconds remaining put the Skyhawks up 41-31 at the intermission.
Southeast started the second half strong by scoring the first seven points -- Winans had five -- to pull within 41-38.
But that was as close as the Indians could get. UTM scored six straight points to open up a 47-38 lead, and Southeast never cut the deficit under seven points the rest of the way.
"I thought we played well at times," UTM coach Bret Campbell said. "We moved the ball well, and got a lot of good shots."
Which is something most Southeast opponents have done lately.
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