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Southeast opens exhibition play with Harris-Stowe
After three weeks of practice, Southeast Missouri State University basketball coach Gary Garner figures it's about time for his team to play a game.
Although the contest won't count on the squad's record, Garner gets his wish tonight when Harris-Stowe State College visits the Show Me Center for a 7:30 p.m. exhibition tipoff.
Harris-Stowe, an NAIA team from St. Louis that went 1-32 last year, will be the first of two exhibition opponents for Southeast. Southeast hosts Harding (Ark.) University Nov. 13 before opening the regular season Nov. 19 at Bradley.
"We need to play another team. They get really tired of practicing against themselves," Garner said. "I think practices are going well and we're making progress every day, but you find out more about your team when you play somebody else."
Garner said he will approach tonight's contest like he always approaches exhibitions.
"We're going to try and win, as always, but we're going to play everybody regardless," he said. "You want to win, but you want to get a good look at all your players."
For Southeast, that means its 11 healthy players. Senior guard Derek Winans, the squad's leading scorer the last three years who has not yet practiced, will be out up to another month because of a stress fracture in his leg. He will probably miss the first few games of the season.
"We'll miss Derek, but hopefully he'll come back healthy," Garner said. "The main thing is for him to get well so this thing doesn't linger the whole season."
Scheduled to start tonight are four returning players: 6-foot-3 senior Brett Hale (7.1 points per game last year) in place of Winans at two guard, 6-4 sophomore Terrick Willoughby (3.3 ppg) at point guard, 6-6 senior Dainmon Gonner (12.3 ppg) at small forward and 6-7 senior Reggie Golson (7.1 ppg) at power forward.
At center, Garner was undecided over which of two junior college transfers -- 6-7 Ketshner Guerrier or 6-8, 240-pound Waylon Francis -- will start tonight, but both figure to play a lot, as could be the case much of the season.
Guerrier and Francis will attempt to fill the void left by leading rebounder and double-figurer scorer Brandon Griffin, who completed his eligibility last year.
"They're coming on," Garner said. "I'm pleased with both of them. I think we'll be all right there."
Mike Nelke (6.2 ppg), a 6-foot senior who can play both guard positions, is Southeast's other returning player. Also coming off the bench tonight will be four more newcomers: 6-2 junior guard Ryan Belcher, 6-7 junior forward James White, 6-8 sophomore forward Cody Lewis and 6-foot freshman guard Paul Paradoski.
White and Lewis both only recently returned to practice after battling various injuries and ailments.
As Southeast attempts to rebound from last year's 11-16 record -- including a 4-12 Ohio Valley Conference mark -- Garner said defensive improvement is a top priority. He believes suspect defense was Southeast's main liability last year.
"I think we'll be able to score enough points, but we've got to get better on the defensive end of the floor," Garner said. "Can we be better defensively than last year? No question. How good we can be, I don't know.
"We're getting better. We just have to keep working at it."