Southeast teams show promise in opening defeats

Sunday, November 21, 2004

The Southeast Missouri State University basketball teams started the season with road losses Friday night. That's no surprise since both squads were decided underdogs.

But the men and women each showed enough promise during those opening defeats to give their fans considerable hope.

The men, coming off three straight losing campaigns, fell behind by 20 points early in the second half against Bradley. It appeared as if Southeast was about to get totally blown off the court.

But Southeast rallied furiously, pulling to within two points twice in the final minute before falling 77-73.

Southeast could not quite make up for a horrific start. But if the injury-riddled team can eventually get healthy and shore up its so-far weak rebounding, there's no reason it can't be a factor in the Ohio Valley Conference race.

As for the women, they were huge underdogs against 21st-ranked Oklahoma. But Southeast was tied with the Sooners at halftime before suffering an 84-62 defeat.

Southeast has had two solid seasons since B.J. Smith took over the program, but Smith wants a lot more, and he's looking to finally win an OVC title and land a coveted NCAA tournament berth.

Smith believes this new-look squad (featuring 11 first-year players and just four returnees) is the most talented group he's had at Southeast. If the team can eventually mesh into a cohesive unit -- Smith knows that's going to take time -- there's no reason it can't seriously contend for the league crown.

OVC men's basketball teams generally pull off some early non-conference surprises -- and one has already taken place.

Two-time defending regular-season league champion Austin Peay, despite being without its only returning starter (Anthony Davis, who is out for several weeks with an ankle injury), stunned St. Louis University 52-45 in overtime Friday during a tournament in the Virgin Islands.

Also around the OVC, preseason favorite Murray State suffered a major blow recently when guard Adam Chiles -- the Racers' top returning player -- was booted from the squad after being arrested on DWI and drug charges.

Southeast football closed out a disappointing season Saturday as OVC champion Jacksonville State rolled to a 47-9 victory in Jacksonville, Ala. The team went 3-8 overall and 3-5 in conference play.

Southeast lost its first three nonleague games against rugged competition, suffered a multitude of injuries to key players in the process and never fully recovered.

While Southeast appears to have a decent base of returning talent in place, coach Tim Billings and his staff certainly need to hit it big on the recruiting trail if they are to make a major move upward in next year's OVC race.

Southeast loses 18 seniors and many of them were among the team's top players. Even though they helped produce just three wins this season, most of that group will be difficult to replace.

I'm still not all that thrilled with Southeast dropping its Indians and Otahkians nicknames and switching to Redhawks.

But I've got to admit that the Redhawks logo recently unveiled by the school sure looks pretty cool.

The Southern Illinois football team enjoyed an open date Saturday, as it prepares for the NCAA Division I-AA playoffs.

I've written it before, but the turnaround the Salukis have made under coach Jerry Kill has been almost hard to believe.

Just four years ago, SIU was one of the country's worst I-AA outfits, going 1-10. Now the Salukis are ranked No. 1 and will be favored to win the national championship.

There still are a few games left to potentially shake things up, but the BCS people have to be sweating big time these days with so many undefeated Division I-A college football teams remaining -- namely the big three of USC, Oklahoma and Auburn.

If those squads continue perfect the rest of the way, then one of them will be left out of the national championship game -- and that is sure to cause all kinds of grumbling.

Congratulations to St. Vincent High School's football team, as its sensational season will continue with a berth in the Class 1 state title game thanks to Saturday's 20-14 semifinal win at defending champion Marionville.

The 12-1 Indians have certainly earned their trip to St. Louis because all three of their playoff games were on the road -- and all of them consisted of lengthy trips.

Good luck to the Indians as they shoot for their first state title after previously finishing second twice.

Meanwhile, Caruthersville's magical season came to a crashing halt as the Tigers suffered their first loss, 36-22 at Blair Oaks in the Class 2 semifinals.

The St. Louis Rams' up-and-down season continued last Sunday as they were up during a somewhat surprising win over the Seahawks.

It will be interesting to see which St. Louis team shows up today in Buffalo to take on the 3-6 Bills.

Marty Mishow is a sports writer for the Southeast Missourian.

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