Critical two-game stretch for Redhawks

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The struggling Southeast Missouri State men's basketball team suffered two of its more disappointing losses at SIU Edwardsville and Eastern Illinois during a recent road trip.

This week the Redhawks have a chance to avenge those defeats while solidifying their hopes of making the Ohio Valley Conference tournament.

Southeast (11-13, 3-7) hosts SIUE (8-11, 4-5) at 7 p.m. today and EIU (6-17, 3-7) at 5:30 p.m. Saturday in a pair of crucial OVC games.

The Redhawks are in a three-way tie for eighth place in the 12-team league, but for conference tournament purposes they are tied for seventh since Jacksonville State is ineligible due to academic sanctions. The top eight finishers make the tournament.

SIUE is in sixth place, 1 1/2 games ahead of Southeast. EIU is one of the squads tied with the Redhawks for seventh place, along with Tennessee-Martin.

"These are the games you have to win if you want to get in the tournament," said Southeast coach Dickey Nutt, whose team has six OVC contests remaining, the two this week being the Redhawks' final conference home dates. "They're winnable games but they're also games we can lose if we don't play like we're capable."

The Redhawks, tied for third in the OVC West Division along with EIU and Tennessee-Martin -- SIUE is second -- have lost three straight and seven of their last eight.

But Nutt was encouraged by Southeast's most recent performance, Saturday's 81-72 loss to Eastern Kentucky in the opener of a three-game homestand.

"I was proud of the way we played. I told our guys that the game gives me hope," Nutt said. "We played a good team and we played well. It was just a few little things here and there.

"But if we can carry that over we'll be okay. I know I keep saying that but time is running out. Our backs are against the wall."

Contributing to the Redhawks' backs being against the wall were those two surprising losses to this week's opponents, 80-77 at SIUE on Jan. 24 and 78-72 in overtime at EIU on Jan. 26.

"We had our chances to win both games," Nutt said.

Southeast led SIUE by nine points early in the second half but a 20-2 run by the Cougars turned the game in their favor. The Redhawks fell behind by 13 points with a little more than seven minutes left and their rally fell short.

Two strong if not overly tall SIUE forwards did the most damage to Southeast.

Mark Yelovich, listed as 6-foot-6 and 225 pounds, scored 24 points and grabbed eight rebounds, both game highs. He is averaging 10.9 points per game and a team-leading 5.9 rebounds.

Jerome Jones, a 6-5, 220-pounder who leads SIUE in scoring with a 15.2 average, scored 19 points and added six rebounds. He hit 4 of 7 3-pointers and is shooting 43 percent from beyond the arc (46 of 107) to rank fourth in the OVC.

"They're both very good players and we had trouble with them last time," Nutt said. "We've got to stop both of those guys. They're a good team."

SIUE has won four of its last six games, most recently beating visiting EIU 49-45 Saturday.

EIU's overtime victory over Southeast marked the Panthers' third straight win after a 12-game losing streak. EIU dropped its next contest, at SIUE.

Sherman Blanford, a 6-6 junior forward, had a monster performance for EIU against the Redhawks with 21 points and 16 rebounds. His two free throws with 6.1 seconds left after an offensive rebound tied things at 61-61 and forced overtime after Southeast missed a shot at the buzzer.

Blanford is EIU's top scorer and rebounder with averages of 10.6 points and 6.2 boards.

Senior guard Corey Wilford, Southeast's second-leading scorer with a 14.8 average that ranks 10th in the OVC -- he is sixth in 3-point shooting at 41.4 percent -- has been especially impressive recently.

Wilford scored a career-high 27 points against Eastern Kentucky, after he had 21 points at SIUE and 20 at EIU. He is the Redhawks' top scorer in league play with a 15.3 mark.

"Corey is playing with a lot of confidence," Nutt said. "He's really having a good year."

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