SE makes 4th attempt for 1st win

Saturday, December 1, 2001

Western Illinois coach Jim Kerwin can sympathize with what Gary Garner, Kerwin's counterpart at Southeast Missouri State University, is going through.

Last year, fielding a young and inexperienced squad, Kerwin's Leathernecks lost their first 16 games on the way to a 5-23 record. While things aren't nearly so bad for Garner's squad at this point, the young and inexperienced Indians are 0-3 for the first time since the program's inaugural Division I season in 1991-92.

"Last year was tough. It happens sometimes. You just hope it doesn't happen too often," said Kerwin, whose 3-1 squad visits the Show Me Center to face the Indians tonight. "We were playing three freshmen and three or four junior college kids. It was a brand new basketball team and I knew we would struggle.

"I know Gary is going through some of the same kinds of things this year, but he does such a good job with all the teams he's coached. And they're a team that looks like they have some potential."

Kerwin, like Garner a veteran of more than 30 years in the coaching ranks, has overall had considerable success with the Leathernecks, leading them to at least 16 wins five consecutive times from 1994-99.

"The fans want you to be good every year, but on this level, it's tough," Kerwin said.

Much to Kerwin's pleasure, the Leathernecks -- now a year older and more experienced -- are off to a strong start, with three wins in their first four games. They won at Ohio Valley Conference member Eastern Kentucky and Tuesday night picked up an impressive home victory over Drake of the Missouri Valley Conference. WIU's only loss came at the hands of Bradley of the MVC.

Kerwin said he expected the Leathernecks to be much better this season, although they still have a long way to go.

"We have eight players back from last year and six of them played a lot, so just that experience alone makes us a lot better," said Kerwin. "We've played fairly good in stretches, but we haven't had a lot of consistency. But it's early in the year and we're still learning."

The Leathernecks , like the Arkansas-Little Rock team that beat Southeast Tuesday night, feature quite a bit of balance and depth. Five WIU players are scoring in double figures and 11 are seeing at least 10 minutes of action per game.

Shawn Mason, a 6-foot-6 junior forward, leads WIU with 11.5 points per contest. Also scoring in double figures are 6-7 junior forward Luis Rivas (11.2), 6-4 senior swingman Quentin Mitchell (11.2), 6-3 sophomore guard J.D. Summers (11.0) and 6-3 junior swingman Lorenzo Lawrence (10.0).

"They're going to be a good basketball team, another test for our young team," said Garner. "They've had some good wins already, winning at Eastern Kentucky and beating Drake, so it's going to be another big challenge for us."

Like Kerwin a year ago, Garner figured the Indians would struggle some this season after losing their top four scorers from last year. And that has been the case, although Southeast has been competitive in its three losses.

In addition to their obvious depth problems because three key players are ineligible until the second semester, Garner said the Indians' most glaring weakness right now is a lack of consistency that comes with a lack of experience.

"We're making progress, but young teams are going to be inconsistent and we're not consistent," he said. "Hopefully as we grow and mature we'll get better in that area."

From a depth standpoint, the Indians will receive a boost tonight as sophomore forward Damarcus Hence makes his season debut. Hence, who started in the two exhibition games and averaged 7.5 points, missed the first three games of the season as he was suspended for a violation of unspecified team rules.

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