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Indians' third-place win boosts confidence in 3-1 start
Southeast Missouri State University men's basketball coach Gary Garner left for Missoula, Mont., on Thanksgiving Day knowing most people expected the Indians to return home with a pair of losses.
Garner himself knew that was a very real possibility -- even if the Indians played well in the four-team Double Tree Holiday Classic.
"I knew we were considered the least powerful of the four teams, and that we could play well and still lose two games," Garner said. "That's how tough a tournament it was."
But the Indians, after losing to eventual champion Montana 61-50 in Saturday's first round, bounced back to stun California-Santa Barbara 77-75 in Sunday's third-place game. The Gauchos are favored to repeat as Big West Conference champions and were ranked 11th among mid-major programs by Collegeinsider.com.
So the Indians were all smiles after they arrived back in Cape Girardeau late Monday afternoon with a 3-1 record.
"We went there to win the tournament, but we definitely didn't want to lose two in a row," said junior guard Derek Winans. "We beat a really good team, and this helps our confidence."
Winans scored 14 points in Sunday's win. Junior forward Dainmon Gonner had 21 and made the all-tournament team.
"We played hard and we played together," Gonner said. "We didn't want to lose both games."
Garner was also plenty satisfied as the Indians continued their best start since the 2000-2001 squad began 4-1. The Indians face their next test Wednesday at Southern Illinois.
"You always want to win the championship and that's what we went there to do," Garner said. "But there were no patsies in the tournament. To leave there 1-1, I feel really good about that, and so do our players."
The Indians struggled with their shooting against Montana, hitting just 31 percent, but bounced back to shoot 52 percent against UC-Santa Barbara, including 59 percent from 3-point range on 10 of 17.
Gonner, who finished the tournament with 31 points, bounced back from a 3-for-10 shooting night against Montana to make seven of 14 in the consolation game, including all three of his 3-pointers. The first-year Indian also had seven rebounds, four assists and two blocks. He led the Indians in rebounding during the tournament with 14.
"I was really pleased with Dainmon, especially to bounce back from a tough first game," Garner said. "Making the all-tournament team is really good for him, and he deserved it."
Senior center Brandon Griffin matched Winans with 14 points against the Gauchos while junior guard Norman Prather -- another first-year Indian -- added 10 points.
Winans was second on the team in tournament scoring with 24 points, Griffin added 21 points and 12 rebounds, and Prather contributed 19 points and 11 rebounds. Hale chipped in with 17 points.