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Redhawks expect battle with Tigers
The Southeast women want to exact revenge for their loss last month at home.
Before this season, it hardly was necessary for the Southeast Missouri State women's basketball team to take Tennessee State seriously.
Entering today's 5:30 p.m. tipoff in Nashville, Tenn., that is no longer the case.
The vastly improved Tigers snapped a 10-game losing streak to Southeast when they upset the Redhawks 61-49 in Cape Girardeau on Dec. 6.
"I don't think we'll have a hard time getting motivated," Southeast coach John Ishee said of today's rematch.
Two-time defending Ohio Valley Conference regular-season and tournament champion Southeast (10-6, 5-2) once again is perched toward the top of the league standings.
The Redhawks, despite having already lost two OVC home games, are tied for second place. They are one game behind leader Eastern Illinois, but tied in the loss column with the Panthers.
TSU (7-9, 4-3) is also in the upper half of the 11-team league, at fifth place.
That might not seem like much, but consider that the Tigers have finished either last or tied for last in the OVC five of the last six years. They are 4-36 in conference play over the last two seasons.
"They are such an improved team," Ishee said.
The Tigers, who already have matched their overall win total from a year ago, were even higher in the OVC standings before losing their last two games, both on the road.
TSU started the conference season impressively last month with a win at the Show Me Center.
Southeast was without senior center Missy Whitney, the OVC preseason player of the year who missed the contest with a foot injury.
But Ishee is not about to take anything away from the Tigers' performance that night.
"I thought they really played well and they pretty much handed it to us," Ishee said.
While Ishee said the Tigers are solid overall, they have two particularly dangerous players.
Kendra Appling, a 5-foot-7 junior guard, is the OVC's second-leading scorer at 18.2 points per game.
Appling also leads the league in steals with 40 and is fourth in 3-point shooting at 45.5 percent (30-of-66).
Obiageli Okafor, a 5-9 junior forward, is sixth in the OVC in both scoring and rebounding with averages of 15.7 points and 8.3 boards.
Okafor led the Tigers during their earlier win over Southeast with 16 points and nine rebounds.
"They've got some very talented players," Ishee said.
Southeast, which has won six of its last seven games, is 4-0 in OVC road games, but just 1-2 at home.
The Redhawks will wrap up a rugged stretch this week that had them playing six of seven conference contests away from the Show Me Center.
After today's game, the Redhawks visit Tennessee Tech (3-14, 2-5) at 3 p.m. on Saturday.
Southeast beat Tech 66-60 on Dec. 8 in Cape Girardeau, even though the Redhawks played that game without Whitney and junior guard Sonya Daugherty, the Redhawks' leading scorer who was serving a team suspension.
"We knew during this tough stretch that if we could keep our heads above water and stay in the race, we'd be in pretty good shape," Ishee said. "If we can win these next two, we'll have a really good chance [of winning a third straight OVC regular-season title].
"But we have to get the first one. And Tennessee State won't be an easy team to beat."