Southeast Missouri State University coach Gary Garner knows the Indians will be heavy underdogs tonight when they take on the Arkansas Razorbacks.
But Garner also realizes that anything can happen in a basketball game -- which is why he's not ruling out an upset when the squads square off in a 7:05 p.m. tipoff at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville, Ark.
"If we play as well as we can play, then I think we can be in the game at the end and that's about all you can ask in a game like this," Garner said. "We're going to go there, give it our best shot and see what happens."
The Indians, coming off Saturday's impressive 80-63 home win over Missouri-Kansas City, are 4-2 for their best start since the 2000-2001 season.
Arkansas, under second-year coach Stan Heath, is 4-1. The Razorbacks began the season with four straight victories for the first time in five years. But they suffered their initial loss Saturday in resounding fashion as nationally ranked Illinois romped 84-61 in Chicago.
"Illinois has a great basketball team and they really put it to Arkansas," Garner said. "Arkansas is young, but they have tremendous athletes, players who can really run and jump. They have three very talented freshmen who all play a lot."
Talented freshman class
Those three highly touted freshmen, who made up one of the nation's top recruiting classes, are among the Razorbacks' top six scorers, led by 6-foot-7 guard Ronnie Brewer, who averages 12.6 points per game and a team-high 5.6 rebounds while shooting 60.9 percent from the field. Brewer is the son of former Arkansas star Ron Brewer, who helped lead the Razorbacks to the 1978 Final Four.
One of the three freshmen, 6-foot-10 freshman center Vincent Hunter, will not be available tonight. Hunter dislocated his right shoulder in the loss to Illinois and is expected to be out until at least Christmas.
But the Razorbacks have more young talent. Sophomore guard Jonathon Modica averages a team-leading 21.2 points per game while shooting a sizzling 64.4 percent.
Arkansas has forced an average of nearly 20 turnovers per contest.
"With all their athletes, how we handle pressure will be really important," Garner said.
Southeast will at least enter the game with plenty of confidence after dismantling Missouri-Kansas City. The game was expected to be close but the Indians romped, leading by as many as 24 points in the second half.
"We expected a close game, but we played good," senior center Brandon Griffin said. "That should give us confidence going to Arkansas."
Like Arkansas, Southeast features two double-figure scorers in junior forward Dainmon Gonner (15 ppg) and junior guard Derek Winans (11.5 ppg).
But three other Indians are averaging at least seven points: Griffin (8.8), junior guard Brett Hale (7.8) and junior guard/forward Norman Prather (7.5).
"I think that's one of our strengths this year, we've got a lot of weapons," said junior transfer guard Mike Nelke, who came off the bench to score 10 points against Missouri-Kansas City in his best game at Southeast.
Gonner, one of three first-year Indians who start, also leads the way in rebounding with 6.2 per game. Griffin is next at 5.3 and Prather, like Gonner a junior-college transfer, has been strong on the boards with five per contest despite standing just 6-3.
Another juco transfer, forward Reggie Golson, is also averaging five rebounds per game despite seeing limited action prior to Saturday, when he pulled down 12 to lead a 44-27 Southeast advantage on the boards.
And freshman point guard Terrick Willoughby has been solid despite having little previous experience at the position. He has started all six games at the point and has committed only six turnovers.
"I think Terrick has really handled himself well for a freshman," Garner said.