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Ouch! Another OVC stinger
Olushala Ajanaku couldn't believe how far off his shot had been this season.
"I've been out of sync for real," he said.
Ajanaku, Tennessee State's sophomore forward, finally got in sync Monday night, much to the chagrin of Southeast Missouri State University.
Averaging just six points a game and shooting 20 percent from 3-point range prior to Monday, Ajanaku hit five of eight 3-pointers and poured in 24 points as the Tigers rallied past the Indians 94-82 at the Show Me Center.
The Tigers, picked to finish last in the nine-team Ohio Valley Conference, improved to 5-9 overall and 2-2 in the OVC. The reeling Indians fell to 2-11 overall and 0-2 in league play.
"It felt good to shoot like that," said a smiling Ajanaku, a former walk-on. "This is the best overall game I've had."
Said TSU coach Nolan Richardson III, echoing Ajanaku's assessment of his struggles, "He normally can do that."
The 6-foot-5 Ajanaku helped lead a second-half charge by the hot-shooting Tigers, who hit 11 of 16 3-pointers (68.8 percent) and 20 of 32 overall field-goal attempts (62.5 percent) over the final 20 minutes.
Southeast began the game with a bang and bolted to a 27-11 lead at the midway point of the first half. The Indians led 44-36 at halftime and pushed their advantage to 48-36 early in the final period.
But the Tigers came charging back. A 3-pointer by Kyle Rolston with 6:50 left tied it at 67-67, then Ajanaku's 3-pointer at the 6:24 mark gave TSU the lead for good at 70-67.
Ajanaku helped stick a dagger in Southeast when he hit consecutive 3-pointers from well beyond the arc as the shot clock was winding down in both instances. The final bomb made it 84-74 with 1:48 left and the Tigers coasted from there.
It was the second straight game in which Southeast gave up a sizeable lead. The Indians led Eastern Illinois by 18 points before losing Saturday.
"They really caught fire in the second half," Southeast coach Gary Garner said after seeing the Tigers outscore the Indians 58-38 over the final 20 minutes. "Ajanaku hadn't done much before tonight but he really hurt us."
Rolston hit five of six 3-pointers and scored 21 points. Also in double figures for the Tigers, who were missing one of their leading scorers to an injury in Josh Cooperwood, were Garrett Richardson (14) and Roderick James (13).
Southeast was led by Derek Winans with 25 points as he hit five of 10 3-pointers. Tim Scheer added 23 points, 16 coming in the first half, while Kenny Johnson contributed 10 points and five assists. Monte Gordon came off the bench to grab a team-high seven rebounds and he also blocked two shots.
"Overall, I don't think we played a bad game," Garner said. "We said in our staff meeting that if we turned it over 15 times or less, with the way they trap, we'd win. We turned it over 13 times."
But the Indians, who shot just 38.7 percent in the second half after blistering the nets at a 56-percent clip in the first half, were still saddled with yet another defeat.
"We just have to keep working," said Garner. "I told the players that (today) we have to have the best practice that we can and get ready for Eastern Kentucky Thursday."