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Redhawks grab first OVC win
Southeast held on for a 70-69 victory over visiting Tennessee State.
Roy Booker still hasn't had what he would consider that breakout shooting game.
But Booker was plenty close Thursday night in helping lead Southeast Missouri State to its first Ohio Valley Conference victory of the season, 70-69 over visiting Tennessee State.
Booker nailed three 3-pointers without a miss during a key stretch late in the second half to help give the Redhawks a five-point cushion, and they survived a harrowing finish before improving to 3-3 overall and 1-1 in the OVC.
"I still haven't had that really hot game," said Booker, a senior guard who scored a Southeast career-high 27 points. "But that's the best stretch I've had."
As far as Southeast coach Gary Garner is concerned, Booker was hot enough.
Booker, a Montana transfer playing his only season at Southeast, entered the game averaging 18.6 points but shooting just 35.2 percent from the field, including 34.4 percent from 3-point range.
Against TSU (1-1, 0-1 OVC), Booker hit eight of 18 from the field, including six of 12 3-pointers.
"We'll take eight for 18 and six for 12 from 3 every night from Roy," Garner said.
Southeast needed every one of Booker's points -- and everything all the other players contributed -- to hold on in a tense affair that featured 12 lead changes, 10 ties and no advantage bigger than seven points.
The final seconds were particularly nerve-wracking for the Redhawks, who went ahead for good on junior forward Andrais Thornton's layup off a feed from sophomore point guard Paul Paradoski with 3 minutes, 25 seconds remaining that made it 64-62.
Booker's third 3-pointer during a stretch of less than 3 minutes came at the 2:39 mark, giving the Redhawks a 67-62 lead and capping an 11-2 run after Southeast fell behind 60-56 with just over 5 minutes remaining.
But several turnovers and missed free throws in the late going allowed the Tigers to hang close -- and almost steal a victory.
Southeast led 70-67 after Booker made one of two free throws with 3.9 seconds left.
With 1.4 seconds to go, TSU guard Reiley Ervin was fouled near mid-court to prevent him from getting into position for a possible tying 3-pointer.
Ervin made the first free throw and attempted to miss the second -- which was obvious by his body language after the shot still found its mark, making the score 70-69.
Garner, anticipating an intentional miss on Ervin's second free throw, had primarily a taller lineup in to grab the rebound.
But that bigger group had trouble executing the inbound play, with Thornton's pass directed toward Booker intercepted by TSU guard Wayne Arnold near the right corner. Arnold's 3-point attempt was just a bit long and bounced high off the far side of the rim as the buzzer sounded.
"I was trying to get it in to Roy and there was miscommunication," Thornton said. "I just held my breath when he [Arnold] shot it."
Said Booker: "I was held, or I would have got the ball. If he had made that shot, I'd have started crying."
Added Garner: "We know he's [Ervin] going to try and miss the second one, so we got all our big guys in there to rebound the ball. He makes it, and we didn't have the right guys in there to inbound the ball.
"I've got to do a better job at the end getting us ready for that situation."
Thornton had his second straight solid performance with 13 points -- he hit four of five shots -- and seven rebounds.
"He's had two good [shooting] percentage nights in a row now," Garner said. "We really need to get him the ball more."
Southeast, which led 37-32 at halftime after having a pair of seven-point first-half leads, won despite continuing to shoot poorly overall at 39.7 percent, after entering the game shooting just 38 percent.
The Redhawks also survived an unusually rough night from the free-throw line as they made only 14 of 25 for 56 percent, after they entered the contest at nearly 71 percent. And 16 turnovers also hampered the cause.
"We didn't handle the end of the game real well. We turned it over a couple of times, and missed some big free throws down the stretch," Garner said. "We're still not shooting well as a team. If we shoot better and hit our free throws, we probably win this game fairly comfortably."
Not that Garner was about to complain. With a home game against OVC power Tennessee Tech coming up Saturday night, the Redhawks wanted to avoid an 0-2 conference start in the worst way.
"It was a great win because we needed it so bad," Garner said.
The Redhawks also needed the kind of shooting Booker gave them, especially during that key stretch late in the second half -- even if he still isn't satisfied.
"I haven't been shooting as well as I can, but coach told me to keep shooting. I know it'll come," Booker said. "But I just want to win."
Forward Kareem Grant led the Tigers with 17 points and Ervin had 16. TSU shot 43.1 percent but made just three of 19 3-pointers.