Redhawks hope to avoid OVC basement

Thursday, February 23, 2006

About all that is left of Southeast Missouri State's season is to try and play the spoiler role.

And perhaps try to avoid the Ohio Valley Conference's basement.

That's what a 6-19 record, including a 3-15 OVC mark -- not to mention a 12-game losing streak -- does for a team's potential accomplishments.

"We'd definitely like to win another game before the year is over," Southeast coach Gary Garner said.

The Redhawks will have two more chances, as they finish the season this week with a pair of OVC home games. The first is 7:30 tonight against second-place Samford (17-9, 13-5).

While Southeast has long been eliminated from contention for the eight-team OVC tournament, the Redhawks are trying avoid last place in the 11-team conference.

Southeast is currently tied for that spot with Morehead State. The Redhawks play their final game Saturday night against Jacksonville State, which is tied for fourth. Morehead State also has two home dates left, against Tennessee State and Austin Peay.

"We've got a chance to maybe play spoiler against Samford and Jacksonville State, who are both having good seasons" Garner said. "And nobody wants to finish last. I'm sure it's not a goal for the players, but you'd rather not end up there."

While beating anybody these days is a major chore for the depleted Redhawks -- they have not tasted victory since Jan. 5 at Eastern Illinois -- knocking off Samford is generally difficult under any circumstances.

The Bulldogs, having their best season since joining the OVC three years ago, are unique on both ends of the floor.

Samford runs the patient Princeton-style offense that features plenty of screens and back-cuts, and is designed to result in either a 3-point shot or a layup. Defensively, the Bulldogs employ a matchup zone.

"They're definitely one of the more unique teams to play in the country on both ends of the floor," Garner said. "Without a doubt, they're the toughest team in the conference to prepare for.

"They're really different, which is one of the things I think makes them so successful, but I also think their talent is really underrated. It's a different kind of talent. They're not athletic, but any player they put on the floor can shoot the 3."

Samford leads the OVC and ranks among the top 10 nationally in 3-point shooting (40.8 percent), 3-point field goals per game (9.7) and overall field goal shooting (49.1 percent).

Primarily because of their deliberate style, the Bulldogs also allow an OVC-low 59.7 points per game.

The Bulldogs are led by 6-foot-6 senior forward J. Robert Merritt, a leading candidate for the OVC's player of the year award. He is averaging 17.4 points and shooting 49 percent from 3-point range, including 51.7 percent in conference games. He ranks among the nation's top 3-point shooters.

"He's probably the most underrated player in the league," Garner said. "I think he'll get player of the year. He's having a great season."

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