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Southeast Missouri State women to host defending OVC champs
The Tennessee-Martin women's basketball team already has lost more games, both overall and in the Ohio Valley Conference, than it did all last year.
That doesn't diminish the challenge facing Southeast Missouri State today when the Redhawks (8-9, 2-2 OVC) welcome the Skyhawks (7-11, 2-2) to the Show Me Center for a 6:30 p.m. tipoff.
The squads are tied for second place in the OVC West Division.
"It's going to be a tremendous challenge for us, but we're looking forward to it," second-year Southeast coach Ty Margenthaler said. "We're going to have to play our best game to win, but I feel we're capable of doing it."
UTM won its first OVC regular-season title since 1998-99 and captured its second straight OVC tournament crown last season. The Skyhawks went 23-9 overall and 15-1 in league play.
That the Skyhawks' overall record has taken a hit so far this year is not surprising.
UTM has faced a brutal schedule featuring a game against defending NCAA champion and top-ranked Baylor, along with contests against top-15 squads Stanford, Louisville and Purdue. The Skyhawks lost all those matchups.
But UTM, the OVC West Division favorite, surprisingly has lost two OVC games -- at home to Murray State and at Belmont.
"They're the champs. I have a lot of respect for them," Margenthaler said. "They started off a little slow for them, and I know we'll get their best shot."
UTM boasts one of the nation's premier guard tandems, juniors Heather Butler and Jasmine Newsome, who have been stars since they were freshmen and have led the Skyhawks' turnaround.
Butler was selected as the OVC preseason player of the year after leading the league and ranking fourth nationally with an average of 23.8 points per game. She was third nationally with a conference-best 42.3 percentage from behind the 3-point arc.
The 5-foot-5 Butler, among 25 players named to the preseason Wade Trophy Watch List to honor the nation's top player, is again the OVC's leading scorer with a 22.2 average. She also leads the league with 55 3-pointers made.
Newsome is the reigning OVC player of the year. She led the conference last season with averages of 6.0 assists and 2.7 steals while ranking second with 19.6 points.
The 5-6 Newsome is the OVC's No. 2 scorer with a 19.8 mark. She leads the league with 5.8 assists and 3.0 steals. She has hit 31 3-pointers.
"They've got great guard play. They play well together, and they can both really shoot the ball," Margenthaler said.
No other UTM player is averaging more than 7.6 points, but the Skyhawks still lead the league with a 70.8 average, although they are allowing 69.6 points to rank 10th among 12 squads.
UTM is second in field-goal shooting at 40.8 percent and has made an OVC-best 160 3-pointers, but the Skyhawks rank 11th in field-goal percentage defense at 43.3.
Southeast, meanwhile, appears much better equipped to compete with UTM this season than last year, when the Redhawks were blasted 77-44 in Cape Girardeau and 88-47 in Martin, Tenn. Butler scored 52 points in the two games and Newsome added 40.
The Redhawks already have surpassed their victory total from Margenthaler's first season last year, when they went 7-22, and they are just two wins away from matching last year's OVC victory total.
Southeast, which has not won more than eight games in a season since the 2008-09 campaign, had its three-game winning streak -- the program's longest since 2008-09 -- snapped Monday at Tennessee State.
The Redhawks will try to get back on track at home, where they are 6-1 overall and 2-0 in OVC play.
"We've played really well at home," Margenthaler said. "We've got a lot of confidence playing at home."