Indians launch OVC season

Saturday, January 5, 2002

Southeast Missouri State University's Indians would no doubt like to wipe out from their memory banks the non-conference portion of their season that saw them go 2-9 -- and both of the wins were against Division II teams.

Well, tonight the Indians can at least begin to ease the pain of their non-league struggles when they open Ohio Valley Conference play against host Eastern Illinois.

"It's kind of like a brand new season for us and that's what we have to try and get across to the players," said Southeast coach Gary Garner. "We haven't looked good yet and there is no question that our confidence is not very good right now. But it's almost like starting over now with the conference season."

While the Indians will be opening their league schedule tonight, the defending OVC Tournament champion Panthers have already played one conference game as they lost 86-64 at Austin Peay Monday night.

The Panthers, who participated in last year's NCAA Tournament after gaining the OVC's automatic bid, are 7-7 overall as they have lost their last four games.

Still, with the way the Indians are struggling, Garner said with a laugh, "To me, they look like the LA Lakers."

EIU certainly has one player who might come close to fitting in with the Lakers. Henry Domercant, a 6-foot-4 junior swingman, was the nation's fourth-leading scorer last year and he ranks fifth nationally this year with a 24.6 points-per-game average that leads the OVC.

"We're going to have to do something on him because nobody has really been able to stop him or even slow him down," Garner said. "We hope to be the first one."

As for how the Indians plan to slow down Domercant, Garner said. "We've got a few ideas, but we really don't have anybody that matches up with him. It's got to be a team thing."

While Domercant has been scoring big for the second straight season, he has actually been struggling with his shooting, hitting just 41 percent from the field and 36 percent from 3-point range.

EIU coach Rick Samuels said the reason for that is pretty obvious. Last year the Panthers had two other solid scorers -- including Kyle Hill, who was the nation's No. 2 scorer and wound up being a second-round NBA draft pick. But Hill and Matt Britton both completed their eligibility last season after helping EIU reach the NCAA tourney.

"Defenses are really focusing on Henry and it's hard to do it alone," Samuels said. "Last year we had three real good scoring options and it was a lot easier to get shots."

The Panthers' second-leading scorer, J.R. Reynolds, is averaging 11 points per game but Samuels said Reynolds won't play tonight because of a strained knee that has also kept him out of the past several games.

"He was really starting to pick up the slack," said Samuels. "Being without him has really hurt us. It's made us one-dimensional."

That was never more evident than Monday, when Domercant poured in 35 points but the rest of the Panthers managed just 29 during the 22-point loss at Austin Peay.

After Reynolds, the Panthers' next-leading scorer is 6-8 sophomore Jesse Mackinson (9.2 ppg). And after that, things drop off to less than seven points a game.

"We're struggling right now," said Samuels, whose squad has just one senior but was still picked to finish third in the OVC's preseason poll.

The Indians, who also have only one senior and were tabbed for seventh in the OVC, are struggling a lot more.

"They're a young team that's probably going to get better, but I hope they struggle for at least another game," Samuels said with a laugh. "Gary always does a good job and they'll defend. We have to find a way to score, especially with somebody other than Henry."

Realizing the Panthers' shortcomings right now, Garner believes the Indians have a chance to pull off an upset tonight.

"I think if we play well, we can be in the game with a chance to win at the end," he said. "But we've got to play really well."

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