Redhawks open quest for OVC's spot in NCAA tournament

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Southeast looks for its 20th victory, a third win over Murray State and most importantly -- a trip to Nashville, Tenn., for the semifinals of the OVC tournament.

Southeast Missouri State defeated Murray State fairly handily twice this season.

But Southeast coach B.J. Smith believes that won't count for much tonight when his team begins Ohio Valley Conference tournament play against the Racers in a 7 p.m. tipoff at the Show Me Center.

The Redhawks (19-8) are seeded second for the eight-team tournament, after they finished as co-champions of the 11-team conference with a 16-4 record.

MSU (11-16) is the seventh seed, after the Racers ended in a three-way tie for sixth place at 9-11.

Tonight's winner moves on to Friday's semifinals in Nashville, Tenn., with the championship game set for Saturday.

"This is really what you play all season for," Smith said. "Winning the conference championship [for the first time in school history] was great, but that was just the first of two steps we want to take."

Southeast beat MSU 72-62 on Jan. 7 in Murray, Ky., in a game the Redhawks led by more than 20 points for much of the second half. Southeast also defeated the Racers 71-52 on Jan. 28 in Cape Girardeau.

"But that doesn't mean anything as far as this game is concerned," Smith said. "Murray State has a talented team, and the biggest thing about our league this year, from No. 4 on down, everybody was better than they've been in the past. They all scare me.

"Everybody goes into the tournament with a clean slate. You lose now and your season is over, so you have to really come ready to play."

A history of close wins

And it's not like Southeast has exactly breezed in first-round tournament home games during Smith's previous three seasons with the program, although the Redhawks won all three times.

Last year, the second-seeded Redhawks barely survived seventh-seeded Samford 47-45. In 2002-2003, the second-seeded Redhawks barely survived seventh-seeded Eastern Illinois 79-76. Both seasons ended with Southeast losing in the tournament finals.

"We've had trouble in this game before," Smith said. "Everybody is going to play so hard, because the season is on the line."

Southeast and MSU are the OVC's highest-scoring teams, the Redhawks No. 1 with 72.1 points per game and the Racers No. 2 at 71.9.

But the Redhawks allow just 64.7 points a contest, while the Racers are 10th in the league at 74.8.

The Redhawks will have to contend with MSU 6-foot junior forward Joi Scott, a transfer from Northern Illinois who is averaging 20.6 points and 8.9 rebounds while shooting 55.6 percent from the field.

"She's really a good player, and they've got other good players," Smith said. "But we won't look past them. We'll be ready to play."

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