Racers outplay Southeast

Tuesday, January 3, 2006

The Redhawks pushed the OVC co-leader before falling 81-68.

MURRAY, Ky. -- There was no three-peat for Southeast Missouri State at the Regional Special Events Center.

The Redhawks, who had stunningly won on Murray State's home court twice last season -- including in the first round of the Ohio Valley Conference tournament -- could not make it three in a row Saturday night.

Murray State, the preseason OVC favorite, gained a measure of revenge with an 81-68 victory that was actually still somewhat in doubt midway through the second half.

"We hung tough with them, but they're a great team and they showed it tonight," Southeast junior guard Terrick Willoughby said.

Southeast (6-8, 3-5 OVC), which never led and was tied just once, was able to stay close enough that it trailed by only four points with under 9 minutes remaining before the first-place Racers (8-4, 5-1) pulled away for good.

"They were deeper than we were from top to bottom, and I think that made a big difference," Southeast senior guard Roy Booker said.

Said Southeast coach Gary Garner: "I think they're a really good basketball team, and they played really well tonight."

After struggling so much with their offense for most of the season, the Redhawks shot better than 50 percent for the second straight game, finishing at 51.2 percent, although they were limited to 33.3 percent in the second half.

Southeast made only two of 11 3-pointers, but had a decided advantage from the free-throw line, hitting 24 of 28 compared to 12 of 19 for MSU.

The Redhawks also kept their turnovers under control for the second straight game, committing 13 miscues after averaging more than 16.

But the Racers shot 50 percent, made seven of 18 3-pointers and had the preposterously low total of two turnovers.

MSU also outrebounded Southeast 16-4 over the final 10 minutes, converting numerous offensive boards into second-chance baskets. The squads wound up deadlocked 30-30 in rebounding, but the Racers had a 13-6 edge on the offensive glass.

"We don't force a lot of turnovers. We're just not that type of basketball team," Garner said. "But having said that, two turnovers ... that was really good. Thirteen turnovers for us is not bad.

"I think depth [MSU used 12 players compared to eight for Southeast] was the biggest difference in the game. They wore us down. And offensive rebounds hurt us. We could not keep them off the glass in the second half."

Booker, the OVC's top scorer, led the Redhawks with 20 points, but he made only six of 16 shots and missed all five of his 3-point attempts.

Willoughby added 16 points, hitting five of eight shots. Freshman guard Eric Jones was solid off the bench, as he scored nine points on perfect shooting. He was two of two from the field, one of one on 3-pointers and four of four from the line.

Senior forward Issian Redding, senior guard Darnell Hopkins and junior forward Shawn Witherspoon all scored 15 points for the Racers.

"I thought our second-half defense was the difference," MSU coach Mick Cronin said, "and our work on the boards the last 10 minutes. And two turnovers. If that stat is right, that's pretty amazing."

Southeast started slow as the Racers bolted to an 11-0 lead in the first 4:20 of play. The Redhawks found themselves facing an uphill battle the rest of the night.

"They came out pretty good, with a lot of defensive pressure. We came out flat," Willoughby said. "By the time we picked it up, we had dug ourselves a hole."

But the Redhawks at least made the 19-point favorite Racers work before posting the victory.

Southeast hit 14 of its final 18 first-half shots and finished the period at 65.2 percent (15 of 23). The Redhawks pulled into their only tie of the game on a Jones basket that made it 36-36 with 1:17 remaining in the opening period.

Junior forward Justin Orr, who scored 11 points, answered with a 3-pointer with one minute left to put the Racers up for good, 39-36. It was 40-36 at the break.

Southeast stayed close to MSU, once closing within two points and trailing only 57-53 with under nine minutes remaining.

But the Racers scored seven straight points over the next minute to go ahead 64-53 and they had control the rest of the way, leading by 17 points twice in the late going.

"I don't think we played bad at all. We're getting better," Garner said. "We just got beat by a really good team tonight."

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