The toughest -- at least on paper -- three-game stretch of the season for the Southeast Missouri State men's basketball team began Saturday night.
And speaking of stretches, I don't think it's one to say the Redhawks' prospects of contending for the Ohio Valley Conference regular-season title will probably hinge on what happens during this three-game period.
Things did not start out well for the Redhawks, who made a valiant comeback from a 16-point deficit but fell 85-82 at defending OVC regular-season champion Austin Peay, marking the Govs' 10th straight home win in the series.
Southeast has two more road games this week, at Tennessee State Thursday night and at Tennessee Tech Saturday afternoon.
The Tigers and Eagles are both among the OVC's more talented -- although inconsistent -- squads, and Southeast has had all kinds of trouble winning at Tennessee Tech in recent years.
Saturday's loss at Austin Peay was the Redhawks' second straight conference defeat, after they began their OVC schedule with six consecutive wins for just the second time in program history.
Still, the Redhawks (11-7, 6-2) remain in fairly decent shape in the OVC race, positioned at No. 2 among 11 teams.
Southeast probably needs to at least split its two games this week in order to remain in serious contention for the OVC regular-season title.
Sweeping Tennessee State and Tennessee Tech would really put the Redhawks in solid shape, while dropping both contests would make it virtually impossible to have a realistic shot at the regular-season crown.
After Southeast's defense had been so solid during its first seven OVC games, it sprung major leaks against Austin Peay.
The Redhawks were limiting league opponents to just 41 percent shooting, but Austin Peay got open looks all night and burned the nets for 51.7 percent, including 10-of-21 from 3-point range.
That negated one of Southeast's top offensive performances of the season as the Redhawks shot 52.5 percent.
But overall it was simply a great college basketball game, and a lot of fun to watch.
Other than not playing better defense, it's really hard to fault the Redhawks much, and it's not like Austin Peay's defense was any better than Southeast's.
Southeast could have shot its free throws a bit better -- the Redhawks went 12-of-19 while the Govs were 13-of-17 -- but freshman center Will Bogan accounted for five of Southeast's misses as he went 5-of-10.
But you certainly can't blame Bogan. The 6-foot-10, 290-pound rookie from Bell City led the Redhawks with 17 points and helped spark their comeback.
Although the extent of senior forward Brandon Foust's knee injury is not yet known, Southeast coach Scott Edgar did not appear too optimistic in the moments after Saturday's game.
Foust, who has been battling through knee problems much of the year, suffered a right knee injury midway through the second half. The knee appeared to give out on his landing after a dunk.
Foust stayed down on the court for several minutes before being helped to the locker room by teammates. He came out a short time later on crutches with a big wrap around the knee and remained on the bench.
Southeast hopes to have Foust undergo an MRI today.
Foust is Southeast's second-leading scorer on the season, and he had really been playing well lately with four double-doubles in his last five games prior to Saturday.
It would be a big blow to the Redhawks if Foust is out for any length of time, and it would be a shame for Foust personally.
While Southeast's men are in the midst of a rugged stretch, the Southeast women are winding down a brutal run that features six of seven OVC games away from the Show Me Center.
The Redhawks, after beating Austin Peay 70-54 Saturday night, are so far 4-1 during that stretch, which ends this week with contests at Tennessee State and Tennessee Tech.
Saturday's victory kept the Redhawks (10-6, 5-2) perfect in four OVC road tests.
If the Redhawks can start locking down their home court, they should have a strong chance to claim their third straight OVC regular-season title.
What figures to be another exciting season of Southeast women's gymnastics under energetic coach Tom Farden begins Friday night with a meet against nationally ranked Kentucky at Houck Field House.
The Redhawks are coming off an impressive campaign that saw them go 17-9, attain the program's highest national ranking in more than a decade at No. 22, qualify four gymnasts for regionals and win the national team academic award.
And that was after a 2006 season during which Southeast earned a team regional berth for the first time since 1997 and was fifth in the academic standings.
Go out and support the Redhawks. They're fun to watch, and Farden has built quite a program.
Also, for friends of the program -- or simply anybody who wants to help out and enjoy a good meal in the process -- Southeast's sixth annual benefit luncheon will be at noon Saturday at Outback Steakhouse.
The cost is $20 per person, or $30 for two people. All money raised benefits the gymnastics program. For more information, call Farden at 651-2604.
Eastern Kentucky is in the market for new head football coach after Danny Hope left to become an assistant at Purdue, which will mark his second stop at that school.
The real reason Hope returned to Purdue -- where he was an assistant from 1997 through 2001 -- is that he will take over as head coach after Joe Tiller steps down following the 2008 season.
Hope led the Colonels to the 2007 OVC championship.
Mishow is a sports writer for the Southeast Missourian.