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Redhawks tumble into cellar
Morehead St. handed Southeast its ninth straight loss 62-59.
MOREHEAD, Ky. -- For much of the season, Morehead State was rated among the nation's worst Division I basketball teams.
But right now Southeast Missouri State trails even the Eagles in the Ohio Valley Conference standings; that's how bad things have gotten for the depleted Redhawks.
Southeast fell into last place in the 11-team OVC with Thursday night's 62-59 loss at MSU. It was the Redhawks' ninth consecutive defeat, their longest such streak on the Division I level.
"We're still playing hard. I'm proud of the guys for that. A lot of teams would have just thrown in the towel by now," Southeast coach Gary Garner said. "But right now it's just a really tough time for us. We need something good to happen."
It almost happened Thursday night, as the Redhawks displayed the resolve that Garner has praised all during their losing streak by very nearly pulling off an improbable comeback.
Southeast trailed 60-51 with two minutes to play, but senior guard Roy Booker scored eight points in less than a minute to bring the Redhawks within 60-59.
MSU missed four straight free throws in the final 13 seconds to give the Redhawks an opportunity, but two late turnovers sealed their fate.
"I thought we were going to win," Booker said.
But the bottom line is that the Redhawks (6-16, 3-13) fell one-half game behind MSU (4-17, 3-12) in the OVC standings as they have virtually been eliminated from making the eight-team conference tournament. Southeast has four league contests remaining.
"We keep fighting, but we have to get some wins," senior center Waylon Francis said.
Southeast played its second straight game with only seven available scholarship players. And the Redhawks became even more shorthanded early in the second half when junior guard Terrick Willoughby injured his left shoulder.
Willoughby, Southeast's second-leading scorer, spent the rest of the night on the bench with an ice pack on the shoulder. He played only four second-half minutes.
"It feels pretty bad," said Willoughby, whose availability for Saturday's game at Eastern Kentucky is in question.
The Redhawks nearly gave their miserable season a major shot in the arm.
Booker's 3-pointer with 45 seconds left completed his personal 8-0 run as Southeast closed within 60-59.
MSU used up almost all of the shot clock before junior forward Quentin Pryor was fouled on a drive to the basket with 13 seconds remaining.
Pryor missed both free throws, but the long rebound on the second attempt bounced out of bounds off the Redhawks.
Southeast was thus forced to foul, but MSU junior forward Shaun Williams missed both shots at the 10-second mark, and this time Francis grabbed the rebound.
After a timeout with nine seconds left, sophomore point guard Paul Paradoski dribbled nearly the length of the court and, with the defense concentrating on stopping Booker, found himself all alone at the top of the key.
But instead of taking a wide-open 3-pointer, Paradoski tried to thread a pass to Francis underneath the basket. MSU defenders converged and the ball deflected out of bounds with 1.8 seconds remaining. The officials ruled that Francis was the last to touch it, so the Eagles gained possession.
"I thought Waylon was wide open. I wouldn't have passed it otherwise," Paradoski said. "If I could do it over again, of course I would have shot it."
Said Garner, "We couldn't have asked for it to go better at the end. We know they'll be pressing us, and Paul went through it. We wanted to get the ball in Roy's hands, but we know they're looking to stop Roy. He [Paradoski] had a wide open shot. We made one too many passes."
MSU senior guard Quinton Smith made two free throws with 1.4 seconds left, then a final desperation pass by Southeast was intercepted at mid-court.
Francis was Southeast's most effective offensive weapon as he tied his career high with 11 points. He hit all five of his field-goal attempts.
"Waylon played well," Garner said.
Booker, the OVC's leading scorer at 22.5 points per game entering the contest, led the Redhawks with 21 points. Booker made just 7 of 24 field goals, but he did hit his last three shots to spark the comeback.
"I thought they played good defense on me," Booker said.
Pryor led the Eagles with 20 points. MSU has won three of its last five games -- two of the wins are against Southeast -- after having a 15-game losing streak.
Pryor scored 16 first-half points -- he made 6 of 7 shots in the period, including all three of his 3-pointers -- as the Eagles led 39-29 at the break.
Southeast, which never led and was tied only twice -- at 2-2 and 6-6 -- fell behind by 12 points early in the second half to match its biggest deficit of the night.
The Redhawks made a run and closed within 47-44 on Booker's follow shot with just over 13 minutes remaining.
MSU scored the next four points to regain control and later appeared to be cruising, up 60-51 with two minutes to play.
Southeast then charged back -- only to fall short yet again.
"We've just got to hang in there and keep fighting. That's all we can do," Garner said. "I'm not going to give up, and I know our players won't."