Southeast faces uphill climb on road

Wednesday, December 1, 2004

The undefeated Hilltoppers of Western Kentucky own a road win over Georgia.

By Marty Mishow ~ Southeast Missourian

Red-hot Western Kentucky will provide a third consecutive rugged road test for Southeast Missouri State University's men tonight.

The Hilltoppers are 3-0 -- including a win at Georgia of the Southeastern Conference -- as they prepare to greet Southeast (1-2) in a 7 p.m. tipoff in Bowling Green, Ky.

"It doesn't get any easier, that's for sure," Southeast coach Gary Garner said. "Western Kentucky will be another really tough opponent for us."

Southeast opened the season with a 77-73 loss at Bradley and Saturday night suffered a 59-55 setback at Wisconsin-Green Bay. In between those two defeats was an 81-64 home victory over Division II Rockhurst.

"We just haven't been able to get over the hump on the road so far," said senior forward Reggie Golson, Southeast's second-leading scorer. "We've been close, but we need to finally win one of these."

If Southeast is to notch its first road triumph of the season, it will have to overcome a full-court, pressure defense that has forced all three opponents to wilt. The Hilltoppers have come up with 65 turnovers and have scored 67 points off those miscues.

Tennessee State, picked second in the Ohio Valley Conference's preseason poll -- Southeast was picked seventh -- had 28 turnovers during a 76-73 overtime loss in Bowling Green.

Georgia then turned the ball over 15 times as the visiting Hilltoppers pulled off a 71-61 upset. And Saturday night, Montana had 22 turnovers as host Western Kentucky posted a surprisingly easy 72-46 victory.

"If you can beat Georgia at Georgia, Montana by 26, and beat Tennessee State, who is supposed to be really good ... when you can do that, you have a really good basketball team," Garner said. "A big key for us will be taking care of the basketball. They really get after you with their pressure.

"We're usually good against teams that press. If we can take care of the ball, then we'll probably be in the game."

Western Kentucky's top two returning players from last year's team that went 15-13 have sparked the Hilltoppers so far this season.

Anthony Winchester, a 6-foot-4 junior guard, is averaging 18 points and nine rebounds per game. The former Sun Belt Conference freshman of the year netted 14 points per game last year.

Antonio Haynes, a 6-foot senior guard, is actually the Hilltoppers leading scorer through three games with an 18.7 average, up from 11.9 last season.

"They're both really good players," Garner said.

A third double-figure scorer for the Hilltoppers is 6-5 freshman forward Courtney Lee (15 ppg).

Because of injuries and eligibility issues, Western Kentucky has often used a lineup featuring three or four guards. One of the Hilltoppers' anticipated top inside players, 6-8, 245-pound Tennessee transfer Elgrace Wilborn, has not played since the opener because of a stomach virus. His status for tonight is undetermined.

"They haven't been playing a real big lineup most of the time, but they're very quick and athletic," Garner said. "They really like to run and press."

Southeast also remains shorthanded, with senior guard Mike Nelke (wrist) and junior forward James White (knee) doubtful.

Senior guard Derek Winans, Southeast's leading scorer each of the past three years who has not yet seen game action because of a stress fracture in his left leg, also probably won't play tonight.

But Southeast did receive good news regarding Winans on Monday when he was cleared to begin practicing. He should make his season debut Saturday night when Southeast hosts South Dakota State.

"I really think I should be able to play Saturday, and I can't wait to get back out there," Winans said.

Senior forward Dainmon Gonner (27.5 ppg), Golson (18.3 ppg) and senior guard Brett Hale (16.3 ppg) have done the bulk of Southeast's scoring so far.

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