Southeast Missouri State basketball team recalls magical 1999-2000 season
Sunday, February 10, 2013
The 1999-2000 Southeast Missouri State men's basketball team ranks among the best in school history and certainly the best since the university moved up to Division I in 1991.
That 1999-2000 group, more than a decade after its success, officially was recognized as one of Southeast's elite all-time squads Friday night at the Show Me Center during the university's Athletic Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
The team coached by Gary Garner, which won the program's only Ohio Valley Conference titles and earned the program's only NCAA Division I tournament berth, was part of Southeast's 11th induction class, along with five individuals.
"All the hard work we put in, for us to be here, it's a special honor," said senior forward Roderick Johnson, the MVP of the OVC tournament who led the team with averages of 14.1 points and 8.6 rebounds per game.
Eight of the squad's members attended the induction ceremony at the Show Me Center. Other players on hand were Mike Branson, Brian Bunche, Drew DeMond, Emmanuel McCuthison, Matt Morris, Tim Scheer and Damarcus Hence, who redshirted as a freshman that season.
"It's an incredible honor, and it's great to see so many familiar faces," said Branson, a St. Louis native who still lives there. "You don't realize what something like that means until years later. It's one of my fondest memories."
Garner, now the coach at Dakota State University in Madison, S.D., could not make it in for the ceremony because his team had a game Saturday.
Assistants Keno Davis, in his first year as the coach at Central Michigan, and Anthony Beane, an assistant at SIU Carbondale, also did not attend as both their teams had road games Saturday.
But Tom Schuberth, the squad's lead assistant who was responsible for recruiting many of the players, was thrilled to be on hand.
"It's great to be able to get back and celebrate such a tremendous team and a wonderful group of people," said Schuberth, an assistant at Jacksonville State in Alabama who spent much of the week on the road recruiting, veered over to Cape Girardeau on Friday and then drove the roughly five hours to Cookeville, Tenn., to be with his team for Saturday night's game at Tennessee Tech. "I really wanted to be here for this. It was a special group.
"One of the neat things about it, not only was it such a good team, but all those guys graduated and are doing great in their careers."
The 1999-2000 team, in the ninth season after Southeast joined Division I and in its third year under Garner, followed up its OVC regular-season co-championship by capturing the OVC tournament crown to qualify for the NCAA tournament.
Southeast went 24-7 for the most wins in a season during Southeast's Division I era. The then-Indians nearly pulled off a monumental first-round NCAA tournament upset, but LSU rallied late to pull out a 64-61 victory in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Southeast, which trailed 24-19 at halftime, rallied to take a 61-58 lead over the nation's 10th-ranked team with less than three minutes left. LSU hit two straight 3-pointers, the second with 18 seconds left, to go ahead 64-61. Johnson's 3-pointer at the buzzer that would have forced overtime narrowly missed.
"I thought it was going in. It just rattled out," said Johnson, who had game highs of 19 points and 11 rebounds against LSU. "But it was one of the best games I ever played in."
Southeast had a balanced, defensive-minded team led by Johnson and junior point guard Michael Stokes.
Rounding out the starting lineup were senior center Bunche, senior forward Branson and junior guard Antonio Short.
Top reserves included junior guard Amory Sanders, junior wing McCuthison and junior center Nyah Jones.
No Southeast player made the all-OVC first team despite the sensational season. Johnson was a second-team pick, with Stokes and Branson being selected to the third squad.
Stokes, Branson and Short joined Johnson on the OVC all-tournament team.
"We played well together. It was a special group. We had great leadership and great coaching," Branson said. "Nobody cared who got the points. We just played as a team."
Johnson shot a sizzling 60.4 percent from the field while also leading Southeast with 41 blocks and 45 steals.
Stokes and Branson also averaged double figures at 12.9 and 11.8 points, respectively. They were Southeast's top 3-point shooters, Stokes 42.7 percent (47 of 110) and Branson 39.9 percent (55 of 138).
"Defensively we were very good," said Branson of a squad that led the OVC in scoring defense and field-goal percentage defense while ranking seventh nationally in the latter category at 38 percent.
The 1999-2000 Indians entered the season hungry after narrowly missing an NCAA tournament berth the previous year, losing to rival Murray State on a shot at the buzzer in the OVC tournament final to end a 20-9 campaign.
Johnson, Branson and Bunche returned from that squad, which added several key pieces led by junior college transfers Stokes and Short.
"I believe me, Mike and Brian watched that shot by Murray State that beat us 200 times over the summer," said Johnson, a Wisconsin native who is now a Madison police offer in his home state.
A highlight of Southeast's 14-4 OVC season was a win at Murray State. It not only marked Southeast's first victory in Murray, Ky., since 1945 but also broke the Racers' 47-game home winning streak.
Murray State came back to win the regular-season matchup in Cape Girardeau -- televised nationally by ESPN2 and witnessed by a Show Me Center-record crowd of 7,241 -- but Southeast got the last laugh, beating the Racers 67-56 in the OVC tournament final in Nashville, Tenn., to earn the NCAA berth.
"To be so close the year before and to get over the hump and finally beat them ... it was an amazing feeling," Johnson said.