Southeast men end six-game skid with 88-74 victory at EKU

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

RICHMOND, Ky. -- This time, Southeast Missouri State made sure it would not experience another heart-breaking Ohio Valley Conference defeat.

And thanks to a monster second half, the Redhawks kicked their six-game losing streak to the curb in a big way.

Trailing Eastern Kentucky by nine points at halftime and by 11 points early in the second half Tuesday night, the Redhawks exploded for an 88-74 victory that marked their initial OVC road win under first-year coach Scott Edgar.

Eastern Kentucky's Adam Leonard (10) intentionally fouled Southeast Missouri State's Roderick Pearson during Tuesday's game in Richmond, Ky. (JENNY ELDER ~ Richmond Register)

"I'm very happy for the guys," said Edgar, whose squad posted its first win since Dec. 2 in its OVC opener. "We've fought through a lot ... as the losses kept mounting, I kept seeing us get better."

The Redhawks improved to 4-11 overall and 2-4 in OVC play, after they had suffered four consecutive conference defeats -- three by a total of seven points, including two on last-second shots.

"This showed a lot of character on our part," senior guard Terrick Willoughby said. "Everybody had us as underdogs, but we just stuck together and came through."

Added freshman point guard Roderick Pearson: "Really, I think we were just tired of losing."

Pearson was probably as responsible as anybody for the Redhawks finally breaking through.

Pearson, continuing his strong play since moving into the starting lineup five games ago after Paul Paradoski suffered a knee injury, scored a career-high 22 points and dished out a career-high 11 assists, against just three turnovers. Pearson also had five steals.

In the second half, when Southeast outscored EKU 56-33, Pearson had 14 points and seven assists. Overall, he hit 6 of 9 field-goal attempts, including 2 of 3 from 3-point range, and made all 8 of his free-throw attempts.

"He was fabulous," Edgar said.

But Pearson had plenty of help, as the Redhawks put together by far their best half of the season in running away from the Colonels (8-5, 3-2), who had won two straight OVC games.

Willoughby scored 14 points, nine in the second half. He hit 5 of 7 shots, including 3 of 4 from 3-point range.

Junior forward Brandon Foust scored 12 of his 14 points in the second half. He made both of his 3-point attempts and went 5 of 9 from the field. Foust also had six rebounds and blocked two shots.

Junior guard David Johnson scored 11 of his 14 points in the final period.

Junior center Mike Rembert pulled down a game-high 10 rebounds as Southeast, the OVC's worst rebounding team, won the battle of the boards 36-29."We had so many guys step up tonight," Edgar said.

While the older players, along with Pearson, did much of the second-half damage, two more freshmen helped the Redhawks stay within striking distance in the first half.

Guard Marcus Rhodes made all three of his 3-pointers and scored nine points, six in the opening period. Forward Jajuan Maxwell had eight points, five in the first half.

Even Paradoski, seeing his first action since Dec. 9 -- he missed four games -- chipped in. Backing up Pearson, Paradoski had two assists in seven minutes.

Southeast started the game strong and held several first-half leads, but EKU finished the period on a 17-4 run to go ahead 41-32 at the intermission.

Still, the Redhawks sensed good things were in store.

"We came out more aggressive tonight," Pearson said. "Even though we were behind [at halftime], we had a lot of confidence."

That faith was rewarded. After EKU went ahead 43-32 in the opening minute of the second half, Southeast took control and never let go.

Willoughby's 3-pointer with 13:02 left put Southeast ahead for good at 52-51.

Leading 62-59 with under seven minutes remaining, the Redhawks buried the Colonels with a 15-0 run that ended on Rembert's layup with 3 minutes remaining.

The Redhawks then hit their free throws and never let EKU get closer than 12 points.

"We finally came together as a team and pulled together hard," Willoughby said.

Southeast, one of the OVC's worst shooting teams in every area, turned all of that around.

The Redhawks hit a season-high 13 3-pointers in 22 attempts (59.1 percent), including 8 of 12 in the second half (66.7 percent). They were 16 of 27 from the field in the final period (59.7 percent) and finished 29 of 59 (49.2 percent).

From the free-throw line, Southeast was 16 of 19 in the second half (84.2 percent) and wound up 17 of 21 (81 percent).

Conversely, EKU shot 59.3 percent in the first half but hit just 38.2 percent in the final period. After making 5 of 11 first-half 3-pointers, the Colonels went just 5 of 19 from beyond the arc in the second half.

"Defense, rebounding, we were hitting our shots ... it was all working," Pearson said of the second-half outburst.

Added Edgar: "We made shots. When you make shots, everything is better. This is a game of confidence, and we had it in the second half."

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