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Southeast men pick up second 61-58 victory at Murray State
MURRAY, Ky. -- The last time Southeast Missouri State's Redhawks beat Murray State twice in the same season, they advanced to the NCAA Division I tournament for the first time.
Southeast still needs two more victories to pull off a similar feat, but the sixth-seeded Redhawks took a major step toward that Tuesday night with a pulsating 61-58 victory over the third-seeded Racers in the first round of the Ohio Valley Conference tournament.
The Redhawks (15-13) advance to the OVC tournament semifinals for the first time since that OVC championship season of 1999-2000 that culminated with the NCAA berth. They'll play second-seeded Eastern Kentucky at 8 p.m. Friday in Nashville, Tenn.
"This feels awesome," said senior guard Mike Nelke, who came off the bench to hit his only two shots of the game, both 3-pointers in the late going that were crucial.
Added senior forward Reggie Golson, who scored 19 of his game-high 21 points in the first half and grabbed 11 rebounds: "This feels so good. We finally get to go to Nashville."
Southeast went 2-1 against MSU (17-11) this season, with both victories coming at the Regional Special Events Center by similar 61-58 scores. And last week's 61-57 loss to MSU in Cape Girardeau was just one point off.
"Both teams played hard. Nobody wanted to go home," said Southeast senior forward Dainmon Gonner, the OVC's leading scorer who reached his average with 20 points.
Senior guard Derek Winans added 10 points for the Redhawks.
"This is unbelievable," Winans said. "We're finally going to Nashville for the first time since I've been here."
Said Southeast coach Gary Garner: "I can't say how proud I am of the guys. To win at Murray twice in the same season just doesn't happen very often. All the adversity we've faced this year, it's really satisfying."
Southeast played a nearly flawless first half, shooting 57.1 percent (16 of 28) and committing just two turnovers to lead 39-30 at the break. Golson hit eight of nine shots for 19 points.
"We started off so good, with a great first half," Winans said. "But playing on the road, you know they're going to come back."
With the Redhawks' offense cooling off in the second half -- they shot just 34.8 percent (eight of 23) -- and Southeast having six second-half turnovers, the Racers roared back and turned the contest into a thriller down the stretch.
A 14-4 run to start the final period gave MSU its first lead of the half at 44-43 with 13:33 remaining.
After that the lead changed hands seven times.
The Racers led 52-51 when Nelke hit the first of his 3-pointers with 4:59 remaining, as Southeast took a 54-52 lead that it would not relinquish.
Nelke's second 3-pointer, with 1:49 left, put Southeast ahead 59-54, but MSU answered with four straight points to make it 59-58 with 54 seconds left. Gonner got into the lane and hit a short jumper with 25 seconds left for the final 61-58 margin.
Just as in the previous game at MSU, Southeast had several fouls to give and used one. But the Redhawks then got caught on a switch as the Racers whipped the ball around, which led to a wide-open 3-point attempt by Shawn Witherspoon with about 5 seconds left.
But Witherspoon was off, Gonner grabbed the rebound and the Redhawks were able to get off several passes before the buzzer sounded without MSU being able to foul.
"We were fortunate he didn't hit the shot," said Nelke, who added with a smile, "Coach told me before the game to hit all my shots. I just took two and hit them."
Said Gonner: "Nelke's shots were big. If he doesn't make them, we probably go home."
* Tickets for the OVC semifinals and final can be purchased at the Houck Field House ticket office today from 8 a.m. until 7 p.m.