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'Hawks eye 10th straight win today vs. Colonels
Southeast continues the pursuit of its first OVC title.
RICHMOND, Ky. -- Southeast Missouri State and Eastern Kentucky have gone in opposite directions since meeting in last year's classic Ohio Valley Conference tournament title game.
The Redhawks were denied their first NCAA Division I tournament berth when they lost 84-73 in double-overtime to the Colonels. EKU needed a shot at the buzzer in regulation simply to reach the first extra session.
"I don't think anybody has forgotten that game," Southeast coach B.J. Smith said. "It was really painful for all of us. We were so close."
As far as being close to an OVC championship this season, the Redhawks (15-7, 12-3 OVC) are in much better shape than the Colonels (6-16, 6-9) entering today's 1 p.m. tipoff in Richmond, Ky.
Southeast, which has posted nine straight victories, is in second place in the OVC, just one-half game behind Tennessee Tech, although the squads are tied on the loss side.
The Redhawks, after a slow start, have lived up to their billing of being picked No. 2 in the conference's preseason poll.
"We're playing now like we thought we would play when the season started," Smith said.
EKU is in eighth place among 11 squads and scrambling to qualify for the eight-team OVC tournament. Despite returning just two starters, the Colonels were picked third in the league's preseason poll and even received a first-place vote. They already have lost twice as many games as last year, when they went 23-8 overall and 15-1 in OVC play.
"For whatever reason they've struggled a lot of the year, but they're still Eastern Kentucky and they've still got good players," Smith said.
Which is why Smith and the Redhawks are wary as they try to match the program's longest winning streak on the Division I level. Southeast also won 10 straight last season.
"We know Eastern Kentucky is going to be a tough opponent for us," Southeast senior forward Simone Jackson said. "They played us really tough the first time."
Southeast had a close call with the Colonels on Jan. 2 in Cape Girardeau, surging late to squeeze out an 84-78 victory.
"I thought Eastern Kentucky really played well in that game, and we weren't really playing all that well yet," said Smith, whose squad dropped its ensuing game, at Eastern Illinois, before embarking on its current winning streak.
The Colonels have somewhat righted their ship with two wins in their last three games. They feature a balanced offensive attack, led by senior guard Laura Shelton with nearly 13 points per game.
It was Shelton who hit a tough scoop shot from in close at the second-half buzzer last year to send the OVC tournament title contest into overtime.
"That one was hard to take," Smith said. "She just made a great play."
Southeast began its two-game road trip to Kentucky with Thursday's 58-43 victory over Morehead State. The Redhawks held the Eagles to 12 second-half points and 8 percent shooting over the final period.
"We always try to play good defense," Jackson said. "We need to keep that going."