Redhawks end year by taking 20th loss

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Jacksonville State beat Southeast 80-67.

A second-half hot stretch at least made things interesting.

But an icy cold first half -- coupled with Jacksonville State's sizzling start -- ended Southeast Missouri State's dismal season on a losing note.

The visiting Gamecocks built a 22-point halftime lead, stretched it to 28 early in the second half and then held off the Redhawks down the stretch for an 80-67 victory Saturday night.

So Southeast, which Thursday night upset Samford to break a 12-game losing streak, finishes the year with a 7-20 overall record and a 4-16 Ohio Valley Conference mark. The Redhawks wind up 10th in the 11-team OVC.

"This was a very disappointing year," Southeast coach Gary Garner said. "I truly believe we would have been in that mix, like a lot of teams were, of fighting for that fourth spot in the conference had we not had the injuries and other things happen to us. I still believe that.

"But the way things turned out ... it was just a very disappointing season."

Southeast played the last few weeks with just seven available scholarship players.

Jacksonville State was in much the same boat last year, when the Gamecocks finished the season with only six available scholarship players and limped home to a last-place OVC finish.

But the Gamecocks (15-12, 12-8) completed an impressive regular-season turnaround Saturday. They finished fourth in the conference and will host a first-round OVC tournament game Tuesday night.

"With all the adversity we went through last year, a lot like what SEMO went through this year ... it's a good reward to be able to get a home game in the tournament," JSU coach Mike LaPlante said.

In order to finish in sole possession of fourth place and grab one of the four opening-round tournament home dates, JSU not only had to beat Southeast -- the Gamecocks needed some help earlier in the day.

They got it when Tennessee State won at Eastern Kentucky during an afternoon contest. So the Gamecocks came to the Show Me Center knowing they truly controlled their destiny.

"Everything worked out and fell into place for us," LaPlante said. "They knew what we were playing for."

The Redhawks said they could sense the extra motivation JSU came out with. The Gamecock shot 58.6 percent in the first half and made six of nine 3-pointers in racing to a 45-23 lead at the break.

"You could tell they were extra motivated," Southeast senior guard Roy Booker said.

Added Garner, "They're a good basketball team, and they had a lot of motivation. I thought they played extremely well. They played like a team that had a lot of motivation, wanting to get that home game for the tournament."

JSU led 52-24 early in the second half before the Redhawks finally caught fire.

Southeast, which shot 25 percent in the first half -- and made one of eight 3-pointers -- shot 57.1 percent in the final period and hit eight of 11 from beyond the arc.

When junior guard Terrick Willoughby -- who made all four of his 3-point attempts in the second half -- drilled a trey with 3:44 left, Southeast trailed just 71-65.

But JSU's B.J. Spencer answered with a long, contested 3-pointer just as the shot clock was about to expire, putting the Gamecocks up 74-65.

The Redhawks missed on their next possession, JSU scored again to go ahead 76-65 and the Gamecocks never saw their lead dip under nine points again.

"You have to give them credit. They kept fighting," LaPlante said. "I know it's a tough situation to be in. We were in it last year. They never quit."

Booker, the OVC's leading scorer, finished his one-year Southeast career with 18 points. He played for the Redhawks only this season after transferring from Montana.

"It was a bad year, but I'm glad I came here," Booker said. "And I tip my hat to my teammates. We stayed together and kept fighting."

Willoughby, who had an up and down season, finished with three straight strong games, capped by Saturday's 16-point performance that included five of six shooting on 3-pointers.

"It was a tough season, but I've just gotten it back the last few games," Willoughby said.

Freshman guard Eric Jones made both of his 3-point attempts and scored 10 points. Sophomore point guard Paul Paradoski dished out a season-high 10 assists.

Spencer led the Gamecocks with 21 points, hitting five of eight 3-pointers.

Now Southeast will look ahead to next year, when touted transfers Brandon Foust and Mike Rembert becomes eligible, and the Redhawks regain the services of several players who missed much of this season.

Garner, in the final year of his contract, has not yet been told if he will be asked by the university to return next season.

But Garner said, "I feel really good about our program. I feel we have the team to win the OVC championship next year."

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