Southeast men try to halt slide

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Redhawks have lost four straight and 10 of their last 11.

So much for taking momentum to Tennessee-Martin.

That was the plan for the Southeast Missouri State men's basketball team entering Thursday's home game against Eastern Illinois.

The Redhawks hoped to pick up a much-needed win before visiting one of the Ohio Valley Conference's hottest squads.

But Eastern Illinois ruined those plans with a 90-70 romp.

That means the Redhawks will limp into today's 6 p.m. contest at UT-Martin.

"It's a must-win game," junior guard Kenard Moore said.

Sophomore point guard Roderick Pearson took it a step further.

"The rest of the games are must-win," Pearson said.

The Redhawks (12-15, 7-10) are in dire straights as they try to squeeze into the OVC tournament.

Southeast, which has lost 10 of its last 11 games, resides in ninth place in the 11-team league. The top eight finishers make the conference tournament.

The Redhawks trail Tennessee State and Samford -- who are tied for the seventh/eighth spots -- by one game, with three games remaining.

Samford, which Southeast beat earlier on the road, still has to pay a visit to the Show Me Center.

"I wouldn't want to put pressure on them saying it's a must-win game," Southeast coach Scott Edgar said of today's contest. "It's a very, very important game."

While the Redhawks are reeling, the Skyhawks (14-14, 10-8) are rolling.

UT-Martin finished last in the OVC a year ago, and the Skyhawks were predicted to occupy that spot again this season.

But the Skyhawks, who returned just one starter, have been among the league's biggest surprises as they are in fifth place and already have clinched a spot in the OVC tournament.

The Skyhawks have won four straight, which ties first-place Austin Peay for the league's current longest winning streak.

"They're playing as well as anyone in the conference," Edgar said. "We're going to face a mountain of a challenge."

UT-Martin's 10 OVC victories are the most for the program since it joined the league in 1992.

One of those triumphs came at the Show Me Center two weeks ago as the Skyhawks routed the Redhawks 90-71.

That win started UT-Martin's hot streak, and also began Southeast's current four-game losing skid.

"They had a very good game against us the last time," Edgar said.

What makes the task even more daunting is that UT-Martin is showing it can win even when standout player Lester Hudson has a subpar performance.

Hudson, a junior college transfer guard, is the OVC's top scorer as he averages 25.8 points per game, which ranks third nationally.

Hudson only scored nine points as he failed to reach double figures for the first time all season Thursday at Tennessee Tech. But the Skyhawks still were able to win at Tennessee Tech for the first time since the 1997-98 season, prevailing 82-79.

"For whatever reason, he [Hudson] struggled, but he made some huge plays," UT-Martin coach Bret Campbell said. "He had a couple of dishes down the stretch that made this team win."

While Hudson ranks high in virtually every OVC statistical category, and several nationally, UT-Martin has two other premier players in 6-foot-9 senior forward Gerald Robinson and freshman guard Marquis Weddle.

Robinson averages 13.8 points and eight rebounds to rank ninth and fourth, respectively, in the OVC.

Weddle is the league's No. 4 scorer with a 16.5 average.

In the earlier meeting with Southeast, Robinson (26), Weddle (22) and Hudson (18) combined for 66 points.

"They are three of the best players in the league at their positions," Edgar said.

During Thursday's win at Tennessee Tech, Weddle had 29 points and Robinson added 26 to make up for Hudson's season-low total.

UT-Martin is the OVC's highest-scoring team at 76.6 points per game, followed by Southeast at 76.4.

Pearson said today's game plan is simple as the Redhawks make a final push for the OVC tournament.

"Just [play with] heart, throw it all on the court, don't leave anything behind," he said.

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