Hale's first winning basket a big one

Monday, January 5, 2004

Given the impressive career he had at Dexter High School, it's almost hard to believe that Southeast Missouri State University junior guard Brett Hale had never before hit a game-winning shot.

But Hale said the leaning 15-footer he rolled in to beat host Indiana-Purdue-Fort Wayne 77-75 Saturday afternoon was indeed the first such moment of his career -- as far as he can recall.

"I think that is the first game-winning shot I've ever hit," said Hale, a two-time all-stater at Dexter. "I can't remember another one."

First one or not, it certainly was huge. After the Indians played so well for much of the game -- they led by 17 points in the first half and by 15 points with under 13 minutes remaining -- they faced the prospect of suffering a gut-wrenching defeat after IPFW tied the contest with 20 seconds left.

But Hale came through in the clutch. With time running down, Hale had the ball and knew he had to make something happen. He drove to near the free-throw line, pump-faked a much taller defender and tossed up a soft shot that bounced around the rim several times before falling through with just 0.8 seconds remaining.

"We really wanted to get the ball to Dainmon (Gonner), but he was covered," Hale said. "I knew time was really running down and I had to shoot."

Hale's heroics made for a pleasant return bus trip of more than seven hours as the Indians (7-4) salvaged a split on their two-game road trip that started with Wednesday's 57-50 loss at DePaul.

Solid momentum

Hale's late shot also assured the Indians of entering Ohio Valley Conference play with solid momentum. They tip off the league schedule Thursday night when defending champion Austin Peay visits the Show Me Center. The Governors (4-7) have played in the only OVC game to date, routing host Jacksonville State 76-58 Saturday.

"This is big for us, winning a game like this right before the conference starts," Hale said. "We needed it."

Hale hit five of six shots -- including three of four 3-pointers -- and scored 15 points. Gonner, a junior forward, led the Indians with 18 points on 6-for-11 shooting, including 4-for-6 from 3-point range.

Junior guard Derek Winans scored 16 points as he inched closer to the 1,000-point mark for his career. Winans is six short of becoming just the 18th player in Southeast history to join the 1,000-point club.

The Indians also got solid performances from several other players, including senior center Brandon Griffin, who had nine points, 10 rebounds, five assists and two blocked shots.

Griffin had the unenviable task of going up against IPFW's NBA prospect David Simon, an athletic 6-foot-10, 250-pounder who had 22 points, 15 rebounds, five blocks and four assists.

"Man, he was tough," Griffin said.

Freshman guard Terrick Willoughby hit all three of his shots -- including two 3-pointers -- and scored eight points to go along with two blocks.

Junior guard Mike Nelke, who backed up Willoughby at the point for the season's first eight games, started the past two contests. Saturday, he had three points and three assists with no turnovers in 21 minutes. Willoughby played 20 minutes, with one assist and no turnovers.

'Really coming on'

"Mike is really coming on at the point, getting a lot more comfortable, and it's turning into a nice combination with he and Terrick," said Southeast coach Gary Garner, who recorded his 100th win at Southeast and is the third winningest coach in school history with a 100-86 record in his seventh season.

Junior forward Norman Prather, who had been struggling offensively in recent games, also gave the Indians a lift by scoring all six of his points in the first six minutes of the second half.

Southeast shot 64.3 percent in the first half and hit nine of 13 3-pointers. The only problem was, IPFW shot 53.6 percent in the opening period and trailed just 51-40 at the break.

"I was a little worried at halftime, because we shot the ball so well and still only led by 11," Garner said. "You knew we weren't going to keep up that kind of shooting the entire game."

The Indians were still ahead 66-51 with just under 13 minutes left, but Southeast sputtered offensively the rest of the way as IPFW stormed back and finally pulled into a 75-75 tie on Simon's follow shot with 20 seconds left. It was the Mastodons' first tie since 2-2 (they led only once at 2-0).

But then Hale came through to make sure the long bus ride back to Cape Girardeau would not be a downer.

"I'm really proud of the guys for hanging in there and pulling this one out," said Garner, whose squad posted its first road win of the season. "I don't care who you're playing, it's tough to win on the road and it always feels really good.

"And what can you say about Brett Hale. He hit a tremendous shot in a big pressure situation."

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