Redhawks took flight after last game with EIU

Thursday, February 16, 2006

The Redhawks ride a 10-game winning streak into contest against the last team to beat them.

During an early season that was filled with lowlights for Southeast Missouri State, perhaps the most notable came on Jan. 5 in Charleston, Ill.

Eastern Illinois, picked 10th in the Ohio Valley Conference's preseason poll, stunned the highly touted Redhawks 70-61.

That loss dropped the Redhawks to 6-7 overall and 3-3 in OVC play -- and left them searching for answers as their highly anticipated season appeared on the ropes.

"We were going through a rough stretch back then," coach B.J. Smith acknowledged.

But how times have changed for the Redhawks since that performance more than a month ago.

Southeast has not tasted defeat since. The Redhawks (16-7, 13-3) will put their 10-game winning streak on the line tonight when they have a rematch with the Panthers (10-14, 9-7) at 7:30 p.m. at the Show Me Center.

"We have turned it around since the last time we played Eastern Illinois," Southeast senior center Tatiana Conceicao said. "We have a good winning streak, and we just want to keep it going."

The Redhawks' have matched their longest winning streak since moving up to Division I in 1991-92. Last year's squad also posted 10 consecutive victories.

Southeast nearly saw its streak end Saturday at nemesis Eastern Kentucky, which beat the Redhawks in double-overtime in last year's OVC tournament championship game.

But the Redhawks survived, rallying from a 15-point second-half deficit to defeat the Colonels 87-86 in overtime on Conceicao's layup with 6.9 seconds remaining.

It was Southeast's first-ever win at Eastern Kentucky, as the Redhawks had been 0-14 at McBrayer Arena.

"What a great win for us," Smith said.

The Redhawks needed it to stay on the heels of Tennessee Tech in the chase for the OVC regular-season title.

Tennessee Tech is in first place by one-half game, but the second-place Redhawks are tied with the Eaglettes on the loss side. Neither team has flinched recently. Southeast has four OVC contests remaining, compared to three for Tennessee Tech.

"It's a heck of a race going," said Smith, whose squad was picked second in the OVC's preseason poll, behind Tennessee Tech.

While Southeast's loss to EIU more than a month ago was an upset, the Panthers are certainly one of the OVC's most improved teams.

EIU tied for 10th among 11 conference squads last year, posting just three league wins in its first season under coach Brady Sallee.

Despite dropping their last two games, the Panthers have already tripled their OVC victory total from a year ago. They are in fifth place, just one-half game behind Austin Peay and very much in the running for a top-four finish that means a home game for the first round of the OVC tournament.

"They're a good team, so much better than they've been," Smith said. "They're fighting to get in the top four, and we expect them to come here and really play well."

Senior guard Megan Sparks leads the Panthers offensively, averaging 16 points per game.

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