Redhawks must beat Samford to keep tourney hopes alive

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Southeast men have to break a six-game losing streak tonight to have a chance of making the OVC tournament.

A win tonight won't get the Southeast Missouri State men's basketball team into the Ohio Valley Conference tournament.

But a loss will assure the Redhawks of not making the field.

It's safe to say the stakes can't be any higher when Samford visits the Show Me Center for a 7:30 p.m. tipoff.

"I told the players our OVC tournament actually starts this week," Southeast coach Scott Edgar said.

The Redhawks (12-17, 7-11) are ninth in the 11-team OVC. Only the top eight finishers make the league tournament.

Southeast, which has lost six straight and 12 of 13, has two regular-season games remaining, including Saturday's home date with last-pace Jacksonville State.

The Redhawks are battling with two squads for the final tournament spot. Both already have nine conference wins, which is the maximum Southeast can attain.

So the first part of Southeast's mission is clear: The Redhawks need to win their remaining two games to have any chance of squeezing into the tournament.

And then the Redhawks still need losses by either Tennessee Tech (9-10) or Samford (9-9).

There are two simple ways for the Redhawks to make the tournament field, as long as they win their final two games.

One, have Tennessee Tech lose at home to Murray State tonight in the Eagles' finale.

In that event, the Redhawks would own the tie-breaker over Tech. The squads split their two meetings, but Southeast would get the nod based on beating league-leading Austin Peay.

The other way for Southeast to get in would be for Samford to lose its final game, Saturday at Eastern Illinois, which is tied with Jacksonville State for last place.

In that scenario, the Redhawks would own the tie-breaker over Samford because they would have won both meetings with the Bulldogs.

Tennessee State, also at nine OVC wins, holds the head-to-head tie-breaker over Southeast after the squads split their two games, although the Redhawks actually would earn the sixth seed in the event there is a four-way tie for sixth through ninth. That's because Southeast would have the best combined record in meetings between the four squads.

But the Redhawks won't have to worry about following the scores from around the league if they lose tonight.

"It's a championship kind of game," Edgar said.

As desperate as Southeast will be, Edgar expects Samford to play with the same type of urgency.

Not only would the Bulldogs nail down an OVC tournament berth with a victory, they would also avoid the pressure of a likely must-win situation in Saturday's finale at Eastern Illinois.

"It's THE game for us, because we cannot afford to lose another contest," Edgar said. "And it's a huge game for them."

If the earlier meeting with the Bulldogs (13-14 overall) is any indication, things might go to the wire tonight.

Sophomore guard Jimmy Drew hit a 3-point shot from about 25 feet away with 1 seconds left to lift Southeast to a 63-62 victory Dec. 18 in Birmingham, Ala.

But that's when things were going good for the Redhawks, who posted their third straight triumph in what would become a six-game OVC winning streak to start the conference schedule.

Southeast hopes to recapture some of that earlier magic.

Otherwise, its season will end long before anybody could have imagined.

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