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Southeast Missouri State men's basketball team takes three-game winning streak to JSU
The Redhawks try to enhance their standing for the OVC basketball tournament
By Marty Mishow
The Southeast Missouri State men's basketball team has played all but one of the Ohio Valley Conference's other 11 squads so far this year.
Southeast finally will get its first and only look at Jacksonville State today when the squads square off at 7 p.m. in Jacksonville, Ala.
"It's another big game for us," Southeast coach Dickey Nutt said. "They're all big, especially at this time of the year."
While Southeast (14-13, 6-7) needs one more win to clinch an OVC tournament berth, the Gamecocks (15-10, 7-7) will try to continue one of their best Division I campaigns despite not having any postseason play to look forward to.
JSU already has clinched its first winning record since 2005-06, and the next win will bring the Gamecocks their most victories during coach James Green's five-year tenure.
But the Gamecocks are ineligible for the OVC tournament, or any other kind of postseason play, because of NCAA Academic Progress Rate penalties.
"They've had a good year. They're a very good team. It's unfortunate for them that they won't be a part of the tournament," Nutt said.
Southeast is very much eligible for the eight-team OVC tournament, and the Redhawks' recent surge has them in the running for as high as a potential No. 5 seed.
The Redhawks' three-game winning streak has them second place in the OVC West Division. They are sixth in the 12-team league among squads eligible for the conference tournament.
Southeast needs one more win to match its most victories in a season under Nutt. The Redhawks, who won 15 games a year ago, last had 15 or more wins in consecutive seasons during the 1999-2000 (24-7) and 2000-01 (18-12) campaigns.
"I'm really proud of the way we've been playing. We've been playing with a lot of intensity, which we were lacking for a while," said Nutt, whose squad began a stretch that has it playing its final four OVC games on the road Saturday with a 96-74 romp at Tennessee-Martin. "We've had four good games in a row, and we've won three of them."
Saturday's victory marked Southeast's first OVC road triumph of the season.
"Getting that first road win in conference was big," junior point guard Lucas Nutt said. "Now we need to keep building on that."
Hot shooting, combined with strong defense, has sparked Southeast's surge after a stretch that saw the Redhawks lose seven of eight.
Southeast has hit better than 50 percent from the field in its last two games, including well over 50 percent from 3-point range. The Redhawks have made 27 baskets from beyond the arc in their last two contests as they have taken big early leads that they were able to sustain all the way.
"We've been jumping on teams from the start," senior guard Marland Smith said. "When we do that we can play with anybody."
JSU, despite its solid season, has lost three straight -- all on the road -- to fall into fifth place in the OVC East Division.
But the Gamecocks have been tough at home with an 8-3 record. Today marks JSU's final home game and it will be senior night.
"They've been very strong at home, and with it being senior night I know they'll be really ready to play," Nutt said.
The Gamecocks are led by 6-foot-6 senor forward Tarvin Gaines, who is averaging 15.9 points per game.
Other double-figure scorers for JSU are 6-1 junior guard Brian Williams (13.2) and 6-4 senior guard Ronnie Boggs (11.0). Williams has hit a team-high 45 3-pointers while shooting 36.9 percent from beyond the arc.
JSU would have been even tougher to deal with but sophomore guard Darion Rackley, the Gamecocks' No. 2 scorer with a 14-point average who was shooting 41.5 percent from 3-point range, has missed the last nine games with a season-ending hand injury.
"They're very strong defensively, and they've got some guys who can score," Nutt said. "We'll have our hands full, but we're playing with a lot of confidence right now."
Following today's game, Southeast has a break from OVC play for its final home game -- Saturday's 5:30 p.m. senior night BracketBuster matchup with Ball State. Smith and fellow seniors Nick Niemczyk and Corey Wilford will be honored before the tipoff.
* Former Saxony Lutheran High School standout Gus Klaus is a walk-on for JSU.
The 6-1 redshirt freshman guard has played a total of seven minutes spanning four games. He has scored five points.