The Southeast Missouri State men's basketball team played a much better game Saturday night than during some of its recent disappointing performances.
But the Redhawks couldn't overcome a hot-shooting Eastern Kentucky squad, which clamped down on the Redhawks defensively in the second half and surprisingly outrebounded Southeast in the final period to take control.
Eastern Kentucky's 81-72 victory in the opener of a three-game Southeast homestand marked the Redhawks' third straight loss and their seventh defeat in their past eight games.
I didn't think I would be writing this when the season started, but with six OVC contests remaining the Redhawks are in danger of missing the conference tournament.
I still think the Redhawks will get in, but they almost certainly need to sweep this week's two home games against SIU Edwardsville on Thursday and Eastern Illinois on Saturday. Both squads recently beat Southeast, but there is no question the Redhawks are considerably more talented than either club.
Southeast, 11-13 overall and 3-7 in OVC play, is in a three-way tie for seventh in the 12-team league. The top eight finishers make the tournament (thank goodness, from Southeast's standpoint, that Jacksonville State is ineligible due to academic issues or the Redhawks would be in a three-way tie for eighth and in a world of trouble).
The Redhawks would have to win their final six OVC games simply to match last year's 9-7 conference record -- another thing I didn't think I would be writing when the season started because I would have bet money that the Redhawks would finish in the OVC's top four.
Shows you what I know.
Eastern Kentucky not only won Saturday's game, the Colonels also turned in one of the best dunks ever at the Show Me Center.
Marcus Lewis, a 6-foot-4 junior guard, swooped in from outside the free-throw line, leaped over Southeast 6-8 sophomore forward Nino Johnson and threw down a one-handed alley-oop jam off an inbound pass from underneath the basket. Lewis appeared to be a couple of feet above the rim.
How impressive was the dunk? It made ESPN SportsCenter's Top 10 plays during a day that featured a ton of college and professional sporting events.
That's pretty impressive, but probably not surprising considering Lewis was the Chicago High School Classic dunk contest winner as a prep performer.
The Redhawks will find out their Bracket Busters opponent later today.
Southeast will be at home Feb. 23 for this year's Bracket Busters matchup. The Redhawks will visit that opponent next season as part of the arrangement.
A total of 122 teams from 15 conferences are participating in this year's Bracket Busters, with 13 of the games being televised on one of the ESPN formats. It's likely Belmont will get one of the TV matchups and Murray State is also a possibility.
ESPN announced earlier this season that this will be the final year for the Bracket Busters event.
Southeast might be struggling, but that doesn't keep coach Dickey Nutt from keeping his normal positive outlook and making his usual assortment of public appearances.
Nutt will be the featured speaker Wednesday at the Jackson Optimist Basketball League "Slam Dunk" night.
The event, designed to recognize the approximately 500 players and coaches in the league, will begin at 7 p.m. in the old gym at Jackson High School.
I think most people knew Belmont would be a powerful addition to OVC men's hoops this season after the Bruins earned NCAA tournament berths five of the past seven years as a member of the Atlantic Sun Conference.
I'm not sure people expected the Bruins to totally lay waste to the OVC during its first year as a member, but that's what has happened more than halfway through the conference schedule.
Belmont is 10-0 in league play, with only two of those wins by fewer than 11 points. The Bruins are beating conference opponents by an average of 18.6 points per game, including a 35-point destruction of Southeast. The OVC's next-biggest average margin of victory in league play is Tennessee State's 6.2.
The Bruins, 19-4 overall and with an NCAA RPI of No. 14 entering last week, should have a solid chance of gaining an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament if they don't win the OVC tournament for an automatic NCAA berth.
Belmont's bid to go undefeated in OVC play this season might receive its toughest test when the Bruins visit three-time defending OVC champion Murray State on Thursday in a game that will be nationally televised on ESPNU.
We probably won't know which ones turned out to be stars for a few years, but the names of Southeast's newest football recruits will be unveiled Wednesday during the first day of the national letter of intent signing period.
Southeast figures to sign a large group of players after losing 23 seniors from its 2012 team. As usual, the recruiting class likely will be heavy on high school seniors along with several junior college transfers and perhaps even an FBS transfer or two.
Southeast again will hold a signing party at Port Cape -- open to the public -- beginning at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday. There will be an appetizer bar for $5 per person. Southeast coach Tony Samuel will speak and show highlights of the new recruits.
Marty Mishow is a sports writer for the Southeast Missourian.