MOREHEAD, Ky. -- In the wild and wacky world of Ohio Valley Conference men's basketball this season, Thursday's loss at Eastern Kentucky did little to damage Southeast Missouri State's hopes of hosting a first-round OVC tournament game -- or even winning the league's regular-season title, for that matter.
But the Redhawks (13-11, 8-5) know that a second consecutive defeat tonight at Morehead State (10-14, 4-9) would severely cripple their outlook. The tipoff is set for 6:45 p.m.
"I know coaches say that every game is the most important one of the season," Southeast coach Gary Garner said. "But this one really is so big for us. We have to have it."
The Redhawks entered play Thursday tied for third place in the 11-team OVC, but after an 83-72 loss to Eastern Kentucky that ended their seven-game winning streak, they are now tied for fifth place.
But Southeast remained just one game out of first place -- Samford and Tennessee Tech are both 9-4 -- and the Redhawks are only one-half game removed from third place, as Murray State and Austin Peay are both 9-5.
The top four finishers in the OVC play at home in the first round of the eight-team league tournament.
"From day one, our goal has been to get a home game in the conference tournament," said senior forward Reggie Golson, who led the Redhawks with 28 points against Eastern Kentucky. "We still have an outside chance at the title, but getting a home game is the big thing."
"Winning the title might be tough now, because Tennessee Tech has a pretty good chance to win out, although if they slip up we could still get in there," Garner said. "But we're still very much alive for that home court spot in the tournament, which is so big."
Garner figures the Redhawks will need a much better defensive performance tonight than what they displayed against Eastern Kentucky, as the Colonels -- seemingly getting any shot they wanted all game -- hit 53.1 percent (34 of 64).
"It was one of our poorer defensive efforts of the year," Garner said. "When you go on the road, you really have to have an unbelievable effort defensively, and we did not have that.
"We played hard, but not to that extra level you need, and Eastern Kentucky played really well. We need to play much better defensively against Morehead State."
The Eagles figure to be mad after suffering a tough 73-71 overtime home loss to Eastern Illinois Thursday night.
Morehead State hit a 3-point basket with three seconds left in overtime to tie the contest, but Eastern Illinois made two free throws with .7 seconds remaining to pull out the victory.
Chad McKnight, a 6-foot-7 senior forward, poured in a career-high 31 points for the Eagles. He leads them in scoring on the season with more than 16 points per game.
"They've got some good players, and McKnight is very good," Garner said.
The Eagles are in ninth place in the OVC, two games out eighth. In order to qualify for the conference tournament, they probably have to win their final three games and also receive some help.
"They're really fighting for their lives as far as getting in the tournament, so they'll come out and play really hard," Garner said. "We're going to have to match that."
Golson figures that if the Redhawks get back to playing like they did during their winning streak -- the program's longest on the Division I level -- they'll be just fine.
"We just have to put the Eastern Kentucky game behind us and bounce back," he said. "We can't take it with us to Morehead State, we just have to put it behind us and start another streak."
* Southeast Missouri State senior Derek Winans was named to ESPN The Magazine Academic All-District team for the second straight year, making him eligible for the Academic All-America team.
Winans was a second-team CoSIDA Academic All-American in 2003-04.
Winans was averaging 10.3 points and 2.1 assists per game in 19 games prior to Thursday night. He was sidelined by a stress fracture in his leg and did not make his first start until Jan. 8.
Winans was fifth on Southeast's all-time career scoring list with 1,449 points heading into Thursday night's game.