Southeast Missouri State's Calvin Williams shoots over Culver-Stockton's Jordan Ayers in the first half Friday at the Show Me Center.
Southeast (2-4) will begin its 18-game OVC schedule with two home contests, Thursday night against Austin Peay (3-2) and Saturday night against Tennessee State (2-3).
Austin Peay has won the past two OVC regular-season titles and claimed last year's OVC tournament championship, beating Tennessee State in the finals.
"It will be two very tough conference games to start the year," Southeast acting coach Zac Roman said. "We just have to take it one game at a time."
The rest of the OVC doesn't expect much out of the undermanned Redhawks -- they have just nine available scholarship players and only eight have seen action so far -- but Roman believes his squad can be a factor.
Southeast Missouri State's Calvin Williams shoots during the Redhawks victory against Culver-Stockton last month at the Show Me Center. Williams has averaged 15.8 points and 7.5 rebounds a game in his four games since returning from a suspension.
"I'd love to go 2-0 to start the OVC," Roman said. "Is that realistic? I think it is, but we have to do all the little things."
Southeast has done enough against a rugged nonconference schedule to give Roman encouragement.
But Roman knows the Redhawks have a long way to go in order to be an OVC contender.
"We have a lot to work on," Roman said.
Southeast Missouri State acting coach Zac Roman reacts to a call along with Jaycen Herring during a win against Culver-Stockton last month at the Show Me Center.
Big 10 Conference member Iowa hammered Southeast 75-41.
The Redhawks bounced back to beat Longwood 81-77 in Las Vegas for their only Division I win so far.
Southeast then dropped its final game in Las Vegas, 81-63 to a solid Oakland squad. The Redhawks trailed by just eight points late before Oakland pulled away.
"There were a lot of positives on the road trip, minus the Iowa game. We just didn't show up there," Roman said. "We did a lot of good things against Longwood.
"Against a very good Oakland team, we just didn't shoot the ball very well, but we battled back."
One of the positives for the Redhawks has been their improved free-throw shooting.
Southeast hit only 66.3 percent of its foul shots last year, but this season is at 76.6 percent. The improvement could help the Redhawks in tight games.
The Redhawks also have gotten to the line 43 times more than the opposition.
"The way we're shooting free throws, we have to attack the rim," Roman said.
On the down side, Southeast has struggled shooting everywhere but at the charity stripe.
The Redhawks are hitting just 38.2 percent of their field-goal attempts and only 26.4 percent of their 3-point attempts.
Some of that might be due to the level of competition the Redhawks have faced. In addition to Iowa, the Redhawks have also had games at Kansas State of the Big 12 Conference and New Mexico of the Mountain West Conference. But Roman said his team also must utilize better shot selection.
It hasn't helped that the Redhawks only have had eight available scholarship players as junior guard Jimmy Drew has not seen action due to a lingering foot problem.
Roman said Drew remains "day to day," although Roman said junior forward Israel Kirk -- who has had his playing time limited by an ankle injury -- should be back at full strength this week.
"It's not helping us. It's not good for practice," Roman said of the depth problems. "But it is what it is. We have to make the best of it.
"One thing the guys can't complain about is their minutes."
Southeast's most consistent player so far has been junior forward Calvin Williams, at 6-foot-9 the team's tallest player and top inside threat.
Williams, after averaging 6.9 points and 5.5 rebounds per game last season following his transfer from Colorado, is putting up 15.8 points and 7.5 rebounds per contest.
Displaying an improved offensive game, Williams is shooting 60 percent from the field and 77.8 percent from the free-throw line.
Last season Williams shot 45.8 percent from the floor and 57.6 percent from the line.
Williams was named to the Las Vegas Invitational all-tournament team.
"I'm proud of Calvin," Roman said. "He's stepped up, he's playing within himself, not trying to do too much.
"He worked his tail off over the summer. We're excited about the way he's playing."