Just two games into the Ohio Valley Conference schedule, it might be way too early to consider any contest a must-win situation.
But if Southeast Missouri State University's men have any realistic hopes of challenging for an upper-division OVC finish, it's probably imperative that they beat Eastern Illinois tonight.
Southeast (5-8, 0-2 OVC) and EIU (5-8, 0-2) square off at 7:30 p.m. at the Show Me Center in Southeast's first conference home game of the season.
"Every game is important, and you have to take them one at a time," Southeast coach Gary Garner said. "But we're at home and we need to win this game."
Southeast appeared poised to pick up an early OVC road victory Saturday night as it led Tennessee Tech by 15 points just a few minutes into the second half.
But the Eagles rallied for a 63-61 victory, thanks in large part to Southeast's shaky 21-for-34 performance at the free-throw line and 20 turnovers.
"We played well enough to win and I felt like maybe we even deserved to win," Garner said. "We knew they were going to make a run, but we couldn't hit our free throws. If we do, we win. And turnovers were a big key."
Southeast also had 20 turnovers during Thursday's 60-50 loss at two-time defending OVC regular-season champion Austin Peay, after the team averaged only 14 turnovers during its 11 non-conference games.
"We should not be turning the ball over 20 times a game, I don't care who we play," Garner said.
EIU faced the identical OVC-opening road trip as Southeast and also suffered two losses, 86-72 at Tennessee Tech and 68-54 at Austin Peay.
But Garner believes the Panthers are much improved over last year, when they won just six games all season and finished tied for last with Southeast in the 11-team OVC. EIU owns an impressive non-conference victory over Evansville.
"I think they're a little more athletic than they have been," Garner said.
The Panthers' strength lies with their backcourt of senior guard Emanuel Dildy and junior guard Josh Gomes, who average 15.2 and 14.0 points per game, respectively. Dildy is shooting 41 percent from 3-point range while Gomes is at 35 percent.
"They're very good players. Both can shoot the three and also put the ball on the floor," Garner said. "They are a jump shooting team, and they run that motion offense where they get a lot of jump shots."
Southeast ranks second in the OVC in 3-point shooting at 38.3 percent -- EIU is third at 37.2 percent --but could find the going from long range difficult tonight because the Panthers lead the league in defending the 3-pointer, allowing the opposition to make just 31.8 percent.
In addition, Southeast will be without the conference's top 3-point shooter for the second straight game -- and perhaps the season.
Senior guard Brett Hale, hitting 55 percent from 3-point range, injured his right (shooting) wrist during Friday's practice prior to the Tennessee Tech contest as he braced himself during a fall.
Although X-rays taken Monday were inconclusive, the wrist is feared broken. An MRI will be done this week to determine the full extent of the injury, but Hale is out indefinitely.