Redhawks head into break with 10-point defeat

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Redhawks committed 19 turnovers in an 82-72 loss at Jacksonville State.

JACKSONVILLE, Ala. -- All Southeast Missouri State's Redhawks really wanted for Christmas was a victory to end their current tailspin.

But Jacksonville State played the perfect role of Grinch, building a big lead and holding off visiting Southeast 82-72 Wednesday night.

So the Redhawks (4-6, 1-4 Ohio Valley Conference) will have to digest a three-game OVC losing streak along with their holiday turkey or ham.

"It's sure not the way we wanted to go into the holidays," Southeast coach Gary Garner said.

The Redhawks also started out 1-4 in the OVC last year, but they then righted the ship with a seven-game winning streak.

Whether the Redhawks can pull off something similar this season remains to be seen.

"We just have to start playing like we're capable of playing," senior guard Roy Booker said. "I know we're a lot better than this. We have the talent."

While Southeast is reeling, JSU (5-4, 3-1) has to feel pretty good about itself. The Gamecocks have already won more conference games than they did all of last season, when they were ravaged by injuries and posted just two OVC victories.

"We're 3-1 in the league now. It's a huge win for us," JSU coach Mike LaPlante said.

After continuing their season-long theme by struggling offensively in the first half -- and falling behind by 14 points at the break -- the Redhawks finally heated up in the second half and made a valiant comeback before falling short.

"The last half, we showed a lot of spirit," senior center Waylon Francis said.

The Redhawks entered the contest shooting 40.3 percent from the field and averaging 64.6 points per game.

Southeast achieved its third-highest point total of the season, and the Redhawks' 42.1 field-goal percentage -- fueled by 51.7 percent accuracy in the final period -- was their third-highest this year, and their best in OVC play.

"We worked harder to get shots in the second half. Maybe it's a sign that we're coming out of it," Garner said.

Southeast sizzled from the free-throw line, making 16 of 17, but the Redhawks were hurt by 19 turnovers, compared to just seven for the Gamecocks. JSU converted those turnovers into 19 points, while Southeast had just 10 points off turnovers.

"They press all game long and really try to force a lot of turnovers," Garner said. "We had way too many turnovers."

Booker again led Southeast in scoring with 23 points, but he hit just six of 18 shots and made only two of 10 3-pointers.

Francis came off the bench to score a career-high 11 points. He hit five of eight shots, and also grabbed six rebounds.

Junior college transfer guard Eric Burtin, who has struggled with his shooting this year, made three of six 3-pointers for a season-high 11 points.

"Waylon really played well, and Eric had a good game," Garner said.

Junior college transfer forward Andrais Thornton added 10 points and seven rebounds as Southeast held a 39-34 advantage on the boards.

Southeast scored the game's first four points and held three early leads of five points, including 15-10.

But JSU used a 10-0 run to go ahead 20-15, and the Gamecocks stayed ahead the rest of the night.

An overall 18-2 spurt opened up a 28-17 advantage for the Gamecocks, who led 38-22 before settling for a 44-30 halftime edge. Southeast had 10 first-half turnovers and shot 32.1 percent. JSU had just one turnover in the opening period.

"We were awful in the first half, and they played great," Garner said.

The Redhawks finally heated up in the second half, hitting their first seven shots, as they gradually climbed back in the game after falling behind 50-33 for their biggest deficit.

Junior guard Terrick Willoughby's 3-pointer with 6:40 remaining capped a 29-13 run that pulled the Redhawks within 63-62.

Southeast again closed to one point back at 65-64 and had a chance to take the lead, but Booker's contested layup on the break missed its mark.

The Redhawks remained in contention, trailing by three points with under four minutes left and by four points with under two minutes to play. But they got no closer, and JSU iced the victory by making six of six free throws in the final 25 seconds.

"We had a chance to win, but we're not powerful enough to dig ourselves that kind of hole," Garner said. "But I told the team that in the second half we really competed. Maybe we can build on that."

Walker Russell led Jacksonville State with 20 points and 10 assists.

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