Redhawks prepare for Samford's slow, methodical attack

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Southeast Missouri State University's previous matchup with Samford certainly doesn't bring back any fond memories for coach Gary Garner and his players.

The Redhawks were pretty well sliced and diced last season by the first-year Ohio Valley Conference member as Samford rolled to a 70-58 victory in Birmingham, Ala. It was the only meeting between the squads in 2003-2004.

"Samford really took it to us," Garner said. "It was tough trying to defend that offense. It seemed like all they shot was layups or open 3-pointers."

Southeast (8-10, 3-4) will look for better results in dealing with Samford's unique style of offensive basketball tonight when the Bulldogs (11-7, 6-1) visit the Show Me Center for a 7:30 p.m. tipoff.

"They beat us pretty good last year and hopefully we can get them back," said senior forward Dainmon Gonner, the OVC's leading scorer at 20.8 points per game.

The Redhawks, coming off Thursday's 84-65 victory over Jacksonville State that marked their second straight triumph, will attempt to close out a four-game homestand on a positive note and reach the .500 level in OVC play.

"Getting back to that .500 mark would be so big for us," Garner said. "This is a huge game for us, the biggest we've had this year."

Samford was predicted to finish 10th among 11 OVC squads, but the Bulldogs remain in a first-place tie despite suffering their initial conference loss Thursday, falling 74-65 at Eastern Illinois.

"They have been the biggest surprise in the league, no question about it," Garner said.

Garner hopes Southeast does a better job dealing with Samford's unorthodox Princeton-style offense that generally utilizes most of the shot clock and features plenty of screening and cutting.

That attack, designed to create good scoring opportunities while limiting possessions, has the Bulldogs leading the OVC in overall field-goal percentage (.500) and 3-point field-goal percentage (.429). In conference games only, the Bulldogs are even better at .516 and .450, respectively.

Because of Samford's style of play, its games are generally low-scoring, meaning each possession becomes magnified. The Bulldogs have a scoring margin of 62.5 to 58.9.

"That offense is so different from any you'll see, it's just really hard to prepare for," Garner said. "They're patient, they spread you out on the floor, they can all shoot the three, then they try to back-door you for layups.

"It's going to be a really tough, grind-it-out game. Mentally, we have to keep that intensity defensively, but hopefully we'll do a much better job than we did last year."

"Having played them last year, we know it's going to be a very defensive game," said sophomore guard Terrick Willoughby, who scored a career-high 25 points during Thursday's win over Jacksonville State. "They run the shot clock and we have to stay focused on defense. I know we'll be ready."

J. Robert Merritt, a 6-foot-6 senior forward, leads Samford in scoring with 16.1 points per game, and he is second in the OVC in 3-point shooting at 46.9 percent. Five Bulldogs who regularly attempt 3-pointers are hitting better than 40 percent.

Noteworthy

* Junior center Ketshner Guerrier, who played in the season's first six games before suffering a knee injury Dec. 11, continues to improve, and Garner said he could begin practicing at least on a limited basis as early at next week.

"He's coming along faster than everybody thought," Garner said. "Hopefully we'll have him back for some games later in the season. He would really help our depth up front."

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