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Parched Redhawks end win drought, beat Samford 63-52
The Southeast men won their first game since Jan. 5.
Southeast Missouri State appeared to take much of the frustrations from a miserable season out on visiting Samford Thursday night.
And boy, said the Redhawks, did their 63-52 victory ever feel nice.
"It felt so good to finally win again," sophomore point guard Paul Paradoski said.
Added junior guard Terrick Willoughby: "Tonight felt great. We just stuck together as a team the whole year. We've been through a lot, but tonight we played great team ball and it paid off."
The Redhawks, winning for the first time since Jan. 5, snapped a 12-game losing streak that is the longest since the university moved up to Division I in 1991-92.
And Southeast didn't just beat some Ohio Valley Conference doormat. Samford (17-10, 13-6) is in second place in the 11-team OVC.
As for the Redhawks (7-19, 4-15), they moved out of the conference's basement and into sole possession of 10th place heading into Saturday night's final game, at home against Jacksonville State.
"This team has not given up all year. They have kept fighting, kept coming back, and tonight was a perfect example," Southeast coach Gary Garner said. "I'm just so proud of them for hanging in there. I don't think people realize how hard that is when you're having the kind of season we're having."
As surprising as it might have been to most people that Southeast even beat Samford, perhaps more stunning was that the Redhawks were never really challenged after opening up a big lead early in the second half.
"It's amazing what happens to you when you hit some shots," said Garner, whose team has struggled offensively all season. "It just picks up every part of your game."
Southeast, which led 25-21 at halftime for its first lead at the break since that Jan. 5 victory at Eastern Illinois, came out on fire to start the second half.
The Redhawks hit eight of their first 11 shots out of the break, including five of their first seven from 3-point range.
Southeast, ahead 27-24, got consecutive 3-pointers from Paradoski and Willoughby, then another trey from Willoughby. All of a sudden it was 36-24.
Paradoski's 3-pointer with just under 17 minutes remaining made it 39-26, and when freshman guard Eric Jones drilled a 3-pointer at the 14:22 mark, it was 45-27 for the Redhawks' biggest lead of the night -- and their largest advantage in a long, long time.
"We made the extra pass," Willoughby said. "When you shoot the ball, you usually play good."
That was pretty much the game. Samford got no closer than 10 points, and Southeast led 63-46 with under 2 minutes left before the Bulldogs scored the final six points.
The Redhawks shot just 40 percent for the game, but they shot 54.2 percent in the second half, including six of 10 3-pointers. They made 12 of 25 3-pointers in the contest.
"I thought we really worked the ball around well tonight," Paradoski said. "And we took care of the ball."
Southeast had just eight turnovers.
Willoughby, having one of his best games of the season, scored 20 points as he hit five of eight 3-pointers. He also had five assists.
Paradoski nailed three of six from 3-point range and scored 11 points to go with five assists.
Senior guard Roy Booker, the OVC's leading scorer, made just eight of 25 shots but led the way with 21 points. He also grabbed seven rebounds to match senior forwards Ketshner Guerrier and Waylon Francis in that department.
"We know we can't make the [OVC] tournament, so we just went out to have fun," Paradoski said. "We got off to a good start and kept it up."
Samford entered the game ranked among the top 10 nationally in 3-point shooting (40.8 percent) and overall field goal shooting (49.1 percent).
Against Southeast, the Bulldogs shot 40 percent, including 33.3 percent on 3-pointers. Senior forward J. Robert Merritt, one of the leading candidates for OVC player of the year, scored 19 points.
"We really carried out the game plan defensively," Garner said. "We beat a very good basketball team tonight."
The Redhawks will try to end their season on a two-game winning streak Saturday night when they host Jacksonville State, which is tied for fourth place in the OVC.
"We're really going for that one," Paradoski said. "We'd be one of the few teams in the country to end the season with two straight wins. We might be the only one, except for the national champion. That's our goal."