Redhawks seek revenge, share of OVC title in one swoop

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Smith hopes for a big crowd and expects a playoff-like atmosphere tonight against Samford.

Southeast Missouri State gets one more chance to pay back a team that it lost to the first time around.

And, if the Redhawks do beat Samford today, they'll clinch at least a share of the program's first Ohio Valley Conference title since the university joined the league and moved up to Division I in 1991-92.

The first-place Redhawks (18-7, 15-3) will put their 12-game winning streak on the line against the third-place Bulldogs (18-7, 13-5) in a 5 p.m. tipoff at the Show Me Center.

"We haven't been in this position before this late in the season," said Southeast coach B.J. Smith, whose squad will capture the OVC crown outright if it wins today and beats visiting Jacksonville State on Saturday in the regular-season finale. "It's exciting, but we still have a lot of work to do."

The cautious Smith acknowledged that the Redhawks are in better shape now than they were on Jan. 5, when they lost at Eastern Illinois to fall to 6-7 overall and 3-3 in conference play.

"We're in a lot better shape than we were in early January," Smith said. "At that time, I was wondering if we were going to be able to get a home game for the [OVC] tournament."

One of the reasons the outlook was so bleak for the Redhawks was a 91-76 drubbing suffered Dec. 18 against Samford in Birmingham, Ala.

Those 91 points are the second-most Southeast has allowed under Smith. Jacksonville State scored 95 against Southeast during Smith's second season in 2003-04.

"The Samford game, we were not good," Smith said.

Today the Redhawks have a chance to return the favor against Samford -- just as they did against Eastern Illinois and Tennessee Tech, teams that also beat Southeast earlier -- but Smith believes they'll have to play especially well to pull it off.

Samford, which still has a chance to share the OVC title, is having its best season since joining the conference three years ago.

The Bulldogs were 13-15 overall and 6-10 in league play last season after going 10-17 and 3-13 in 2003-04.

"They've got a good team," Smith said. "They play the same style as the men [utilizing a patient offense that tries to get 3-point shots or layups], but they shoot it so much better this year than they had been."

Samford leads the OVC in 3-point shooting (36.5 percent) while allowing a conference-low 58.4 points per game.

The Bulldogs are led by 6-foot sophomore forward Alex Munday, who is averaging 15.5 points per game and shooting 39.5 percent from 3-point range.

Munday, who scored 31 points in the earlier meeting with Southeast, missed all of last season with an injury, after being named the OVC freshman of the year in 2003-04.

With Southeast closing in on its first OVC title, and Samford still alive, Smith said he expects plenty of intensity on both sides today.

"They're a physical team, and this is going to be a physical game," he said. "We'd love to win the conference championship outright, and Samford is still very much in the hunt.

"I think it's going to be a playoff atmosphere. It's going to be a battle. Hopefully we'll have a big crowd, because we could sure use it."

Noteworthy

* While Southeast will claim the outright OVC title if it wins its final two games, the Redhawks have a chance to wrap things up today, if they win and Tennessee Tech drops its final contest, against Murray State.

* The Redhawks are tied with Oklahoma for the nation's seventh-longest current Division I winning streak. Chattanooga is first with 22 consecutive victories.

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