Road games provide opportunities for late-season momentum

Wednesday, February 26, 2003

We enter our final week of the regular season trying to gain momentum for the Ohio Valley Conference post-season tournament.

I was disappointed we weren't able to get a win in our final home game of the season Saturday against Austin Peay. Our team really played hard, but we just didn't shoot the ball well enough to upset a very good team like Austin Peay.

I have to compliment this year's team on how hard they play, not only in games, but also in practice. When you aren't winning a lot of games, it would be easy to just go through the motions, but this team has not quit working hard or working with enthusiasm. I am confident this team will not give up until the last second of the last game.

Our defense continues to improve, and that is gratifying, but we still aren't able to get stops when we need to. We took the lead in the second half of the Austin Peay game but couldn't come up with the defensive stop that would have enabled us to build on the lead.

After watching the tape, I think the 10 first-half turnovers really hurt our chances to upset Austin Peay. Many of the turnovers were unforced and helped Peay have a first-half lead when I think we should have been up by at least five points.

Nationally, a lot has been written and talked about this season about how hard it is to win on the road in college basketball. It is tough, but I told our team that if a team stays together and plays hard, they will have a chance to win games they aren't supposed to win. Our final two regular-season games are on the road and are games, that on paper, we aren't supposed to win.

We have to shoot the ball well, rebound and play good defense to have a shot at winning at Tennessee Tech on Thursday night. We beat them earlier this year at the Show Me Center when we shot 46 percent from the field and 50 percent (10 of 20) from 3-point range. We need that kind of shooting to pull the upset Thursday.

Saturday night we have a scary game at Tennessee State. The Tigers go into the final week of the season without a conference win, and Saturday night will be their last chance unless they pull a big upset earlier in the week. It will be senior night in Nashville, and you know they will be pumped up. We have to be able to jump on them early like we did at the Show Me Center when we built a 30-point halftime lead on the way to an 87-67 win.

Next Tuesday we will be on the road in the opening round of the tournament. We will play at either Morehead State or Austin Peay against one of the top two teams in the league.

I am reminded, and I constantly remind our team, that my first year as an assistant coach at Missouri, the Tigers finished last in the Big 8 Conference regular season but went on the road in the opening round of the tournament at Iowa State and pulled an upset. They advanced to the semifinals and finals in Kansas City, won the tournament and advanced on to the NCAA Tournament. It can be done.

From the bottom of my heart, I would like to thank our loyal fans who have continued to support our basketball team through the toughest of times. We continue to lead the league in attendance even though our fans haven't had a lot to cheer about the past two seasons.

What a great testimony to the loyalty and perseverance of our fans. On behalf of the coaches and players, I would like to thank all of the fans who have been at the Show Me Center this season. Our fans are the greatest.

Gary Garner is the men's basketball coach at Southeast Missouri State University.

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