Big pack in OVC still holds hope for Indians

Tuesday, February 3, 2004

Halfway through their Ohio Valley Conference schedule, Southeast Missouri State University's Indians are floundering in 10th place out of 11 teams.

But if there is a silver lining for the Indians, who have lost four in a row, it's that they are just two games out of fourth place.

Beyond the big two of 9-0 Austin Peay and 7-1 Murray State, who have separated themselves from the rest of the conference, the OVC is a scrambled mess, with just three games dividing the next eight teams.

Samford, at 5-3, is third, Tennessee Tech and Morehead State are tied for fourth at 4-4, Jacksonville State is sixth at 4-5, and Eastern Kentucky, Tennessee-Martin and Tennessee State are all tied for seventh at 3-5.

Southeast, 9-10 overall, is 2-6 in league play. Even last-place Eastern Illinois, at 1-7, is not yet hopelessly out of the running for a top-four finish that means a home game in the first round of the conference tournament.

"We've just got to keep our heads up, keep coming out and practicing hard," senior center Brandon Griffin said. "We still have a chance to finish in the top four."

The Indians' last four games have been on the road, but they finish their schedule with five of eight at home, including the next three. Tennessee-Martin (8-12) visits the Show Me Center at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, and Murray State (17-4) comes to town for a 2 p.m. Saturday contest that will be televised by Fox Sports South.

"Losing those two home games to Austin Peay and Tennessee Tech to begin conference play really got us off to bad start," Southeast coach Gary Garner said. "You have to protect your home court. If we can do that, we still have an outside chance at fourth place."

Of course, Garner knows if the Indians don't start winning some games, they could be in danger of not even qualifying for the eight-team OVC tournament.

"We've got to get a streak going," he said. "We're looking forward to getting this thing turned around at home. I think we can."

Added senior forward Damarcus Hence, "We've got to bounce back at home and get some wins."

Griffin hot, Gonner not

Southeast's second and third leading scorers have been heading in opposite directions lately.

Griffin is averaging 14.8 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.5 assists over the past six games as he is shooting 68 percent during that span. For the season, he is averaging 12.2 points and a team-high 7.3 rebounds while shooting 56.8 percent. Griffin also leads the Indians in assists with 61.

"Brandon is really playing well," Garner said. "He's scoring better than I ever thought he could score. One of the reasons is he's playing within himself. He's not taking bad shots."

On the other hand, junior forward Dainmon Gonner is averaging just 5.8 points over the past five games as he is shooting 27 percent. For the season, he is averaging 11.5 points.

Gonner was Southeast's leading scorer in non-conference play, but he's averaging just 7.8 points in league games. Garner said the junior-college transfer has had a hard time adjusting as OVC teams have made a concerted effort to shut him down.

"Dainmon is really trying to do what I ask him to do, but he's really struggling in the offense," Garner said. "In the past, especially in junior college and early in the season, he could just beat people one-on-one.

"Now in conference play, there's so much scouting done. We as a staff are really spending a lot of time trying to get Dainmon shots in our offense."

Prather starting again

Junior Norman Prather was the starter for much of the season at small forward before first Hence moved into the lineup and then most recently junior Reggie Golson started two games.

But Prather got his first start in a while Saturday at Samford and is scheduled to start again Thursday against Tennessee-Martin.

"Norman is having really good practices, and we were winning early when he was starting," Garner said.

Noteworthy

***Cape Girardeau mayor Jay Knudtson recently presented Southeast athletic director Don Kaverman a proclamation declaring this week "Rivals Week" as Southeast hosts two of its biggest rivals.

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