Redhawks jump out of gate with pair of OVC wins

Monday, December 10, 2007

It would be hard to imagine a better opening week of Ohio Valley Conference play for the Southeast Missouri State men's basketball team.

For the first time since the 1999-2000 season, the Redhawks are off to a 2-0 OVC start.

By the way, that aforementioned squad is the only Southeast men's hoop team to win an OVC title and make the NCAA Division I tournament.

But, with 18 regular-season conference games remaining and then the league tournament, it's probably way too early to start mentioning the current Redhawks along with that 1999-2000 edition.

Still, you can't minimize the impressive display the Redhawks put on in dispatching arguably two of the OVC's most talented teams at the Show Me Center last week.

First came Thursday's 102-95 home win over Tennessee State, which was solid in its own right.

But that paled in comparison to Saturday's 84-74 beat-down of perennial OVC power Tennessee Tech, which had defeated the Redhawks 10 straight times.

Surprisingly, this one really wasn't even very close, after a first half that ended with Southeast up 39-35.

The Redhawks totally dominated the second half, quickly opening up a 16-point lead and never letting the margin dip under nine points.

Southeast was ahead by 18 late when Tech made the final score a bit closer than the contest actually was.

So now the Redhawks (6-4 overall) have the entire week off for finals before they leave town for their first two conference road games, Dec. 18 at Samford and Dec. 20 at Jacksonville State.

Even though the road is always a tough place in college basketball, those appear to be two winnable games for the Redhawks.

Jacksonville State is struggling -- the Gamecocks have not beaten a Division I opponent yet this season -- while Samford has also not been particularly impressive, although the Bulldogs' deliberate style is generally tough to play against.

The old college hoops adage goes that, to contend for a conference title, you've got to win your home games and split your road games, or at least come close to it.

Southeast was able to protect its home court for the first week of the OVC season, and now the Redhawks will look to steal one or two in Alabama.

While Saturday's game against Tennessee Tech was entertaining, Thursday's contest with Tennessee State was especially exciting as the Redhawks reached the 100-point mark for the first time under second-year coach Scott Edgar and tied for the program's most points since the 1995-96 season.

That's the type of basketball Edgar's fast and furious style is supposed to produce, and the Redhawks performed it at a high level that night.

If Southeast can cut down on its turnovers -- the Redhawks lead the OVC in that department -- and continue to improve defensively, they just might be a title contender this year.

As for the defense, I have been one of the first to criticize Southeast in that area.

But don't confuse the 95 points given up to Tennessee State as poor defense, because Southeast held the Tigers to 41.8 percent shooting overall and 26.5 percent 3-point shooting.

Because of Southeast's style, and the amount of possessions it creates for both sides, you can't solely go by points allowed as a good measuring stick of how the Redhawks perform defensively.

If the Redhawks could end the season holding the opposition to 41.8 percent shooting and 26.5 percent 3-point shooting -- highly unlikely -- they'd probably win the OVC.

And the defense was even better against Tennessee Tech as the Eagles shot just 36.8 percent from the floor.

Edgar's second Southeast team appears to be fast rounding into form, as all the pieces of a talented puzzle -- do the Redhawks have some athletes, or what? -- are starting to come together.

If the Redhawks continue to improve like they have over the past couple of weeks, this squad could really be something before the year is over.

But, like I wrote earlier, it's only two games into the OVC season, so let's not get too carried away just yet.

If two of the opening results of the season are any indication, then the OVC women's basketball race is going to be particularly wild and crazy.

Not only was two-time defending OVC champion and preseason favorite Southeast stunned by perennial OVC bottom-feeder Tennessee State 61-49 Thursday, preseason No. 2 Samford was also upset at home, 76-63 by Jacksonville State.

Tennessee State and Jacksonville State tied for last in the 11-team conference last season. In this year's preseason poll, Tennessee State was picked 10th and Jacksonville State last.

What a thrill it was for me to attend Friday's Southeast Hall of Fame induction ceremony at the Show Me Center.

Still ranking as one of my favorite memories from my 20-plus years working at the Southeast Missourian was covering Southeast's 1985-86 men's basketball team coached by Ron Shumate that finished second in the Division II national tournament.

Well, that squad headlined Southeast's sixth Hall of Fame induction class, and it was also introduced during halftime of Saturday's basketball game.

It was great to see Shumate, assistant coaches Sam Weaver and Alan Barnett, and the team members (seven of the 12 attended the induction ceremony).

I have run into Shumate, Weaver and Barnett on various occasions over the years, but I had not seen most of the players since they completed their eligibility.

I'm happy to report that most of the members of that squad have gone on to have nice careers and families. That's always good to see.

And it was neat to see Edgar hand out the plaques to the team during Friday's induction ceremony.

Edgar coached against Shumate several times in the 1990s when Edgar was at Murray State and Shumate was still at Southeast. You can just see the respect Edgar has for Shumate and the type of program he built at Southeast.

Marty Mishow is a sports writer for the Southeast Missourian.

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