Redhawks host big OVC game tonight

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Southeast men's basketball team faces third-place Eastern Kentucky.

Two of the Ohio Valley Conference's top three teams in the men's basketball standings have an early season showdown tonight.

Southeast Missouri State coach Scott Edgar is thrilled that his squad will be involved when Eastern Kentucky visits the Show Me Center for a 7:30 p.m. tipoff.

The Redhawks (9-5, 4-0 OVC) are in first place in the 11-team league, one-half game ahead of Austin Peay (3-0).

Defending OVC tournament champion EKU (6-6, 3-1) is in third place, a game behind Southeast.

"We're off to a great start, 4-0. They're off to almost as good a start at 3-1," Edgar said. "They're a championship team. The loss they have is nothing to be ashamed of at Austin Peay.

"They've got one of the best teams in the OVC coming in. It's a team we split with last year. It's a team that beat us in here last year. So if we aspire to be contenders and champions, this is a game we feel we need to win."

As most people expected, the Colonels have shown to be prime OVC title contenders through the early stages of the 20-game conference schedule.

EKU went 21-12 overall last year, including a 13-7 league mark. The Colonels then upset regular-season champion Austin Peay in the finals of the OVC tournament to advance to the NCAA tournament.

The Colonels' lone league loss so far this season was at Austin Peay, which posted a 75-67 victory on Dec. 22.

Meanwhile, Southeast is off to its best OVC start since the 1999-2000 NCAA tournament squad also won its first four conference games.

A year ago, during Edgar's first season, the Redhawks went 11-20 overall and a sixth-place 9-11 in league play.

"It's great to be 4-0 in the OVC, but it's still very early," Edgar said. "There is a lot of basketball left to be played."

EKU returned three starters from last year's strong squad, led by one of the OVC's top backourts in 6-foot-4 junior Mike Rose and 6-foot sophomore Adam Leonard.

Rose, the MVP of last year's OVC tournament and a second-team all-league selection, leads the Colonels offensively with 13.8 points per game.

Leonard, the reigning OVC freshman of the year, is averaging 9.2 points.

Leonard, who led the OVC in 3-pointers made per game a year ago, hit 6 of 10 from beyond the arc during a win over the Redhawks at the Show Me Center last season.

"They've got as good as or the best backcourt in the OVC," Edgar said. "They [Rose and Leonard] shoot the ball. They're just good players, but they can really shoot the basketball."

Leonard is hitting 36.2 percent from 3-point range, while Rose is at 35.9 percent.

EKU also features one of the OVC's better inside players in 6-8, 210-pound senior Darnell Dialls.

Dialls, a three-year starter, is averaging 12.2 points and 6.8 rebounds. He is sixth in the OVC in rebounding and seventh in field-goal percentage (54.9).

The Colonels have two more long-range threats in 6-7 sophomore forward Josh Taylor and 6-5 sophomore guard Josh Daniel, who are shooting 39.5 percent and 37.1 percent from beyond the arc.

In league games only, EKU leads the OVC with 41 made 3-pointers.

"There is not any one player that you've got to focus on," Edgar said. "They're just a good team."

Southeast, which has won five of its last six, appears to have a decided depth advantage.

Three Colonels rank in the top 15 in the OVC in minutes played as Leonard, Rose and Dialls are all averaging more than 30 minutes.

No Southeast player averages as many as 26 minutes, while 10 Redhawks average at least 18 minutes. Only eight EKU players average more than 10 minutes.

"I think that we're a little bit deeper than them," Edgar said.

The Redhawks are led offensively by 6-5 junior wing Jaycen Herring at 13.1 points per game, including a 17-point average in league play that is tied for sixth in the conference.

Herring is third in the OVC in field-goal shooting (56.3 percent) and second in free-throw shooting (82.6 percent).

Sophomore point guard Roderick Pearson (11.7 ppg) and senior forward Brandon Foust (11.1 ppg) are also scoring in double figures for Southeast.

"We're going to be ready," Foust said of tonight's game. "Just come out and start aggressive and have our whole team click from the beginning of the game."

Tonight's contest is the second during a busy stretch for the Redhawks that features four games in nine days, including OVC matchups Saturday at Eastern Illinois and Monday at home against Murray State.

Southeast returned from a week-long layoff Sunday to beat NAIA Central Methodist 76-63.

"We're excited because we're on break and we have nothing really to do but basketball," Foust said. "So we're pretty much ready to play."

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