Indians unable to reward faithful with road win

Sunday, January 20, 2002

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MURRAY, Ky. -- The 30 or 40 Southeast Missouri State University basketball fans who made their way to Murray, Ky., through the snow and cold to watch the Indians face arch-rival Murray State Saturday night are to be commended for their loyalty.

Coach Gary Garner certainly appreciates the Indians' faithful followers, who have continued to support the team -- SEMO leads the Ohio Valley Conference in attendance once again -- despite this dismal campaign.

Garner only wishes he and his players could have rewarded their determined fans with a victory over the hated Racers. But the way things have gone for the Indians so far this season, that was probably a bit too much to ask.

It was, but certainly not for a lack of effort by the Indians, who showed they still have plenty of fight left in them as they battled the heavily favored Racers on even terms for most of the way before Murray pulled away late for an 85-72 victory.

But, as proud as Garner was of his squad, he realizes the only thing most people look at are wins and losses. So the bottom line is that the frustrations continued for the Indians -- and that term doesn't even begin to describe what Garner and his program are going through these days.

The Indians, now 3-14 overall and 1-5 in the OVC, are going to have to put on quite a charge over the final part of the season to avoid their worst record in a long, long time.

And from a personal standpoint, Garner is having to endure a season that he couldn't have envisioned in his worst nightmares. In 18 previous years as a college head coach, his poorest record was 8-20 while at Drake in the early 1980s. After that, the low-water mark was 12-15 as there have been just five losing seasons during that period.

The primary reasons for what is happening with SEMO basketball this season have been well-documented and I wrote about them at length in an earlier column. A number of unplanned and unfortunate events led to the struggles the Indians are currently experiencing. That's not an excuse, it's simply a fact. And until the Indians can shore things up for the future with a strong recruiting class or two, that's just the way things are going to be.

In the meantime, as Garner has continued to point out, all the Indians can keep doing is work as hard as possible to try and improve as much as they can in the hopes of squeezing out a few victories and maybe pull off some shockers in the OVC Tournament.

While SEMO fans may have been disappointed by the outcome of the men's game Saturday, the handful who showed up early enough at least got to enjoy one victory as the women's team romped 71-55.

The Otahkians are off to a solid start at 11-6 overall and 4-3 in the OVC as they have posted three straight victories.

One more thought on SEMO hoops, regarding guard Justin Smith recently leaving the program to play at a junior college.

Smith, a transfer from Arkansas State who was redshirting this season, looked like he could be a good player. But, since he was not yet on scholarship, his departure means the Indians will have one more scholarship to dole out for next season.

Garner and his staff will now be able to sign three more players to go along with the one high school senior they landed early. And that should only help the Indians replenish their talent pool for the future.

When Perryville High's Amanda Nuyt broke the state single-game 3-point field-goal mark for girls by hitting 14 Thursday, it gave the area a clean sweep of the record book in that department.

In a 1997 game, Scott City's Jon Beck set the boys record with 16 3-pointers.

Kudos to classy Three Rivers Community College basketball coach Gene Bess for recently notching his 900th career victory.

Bess has long been regarded as one of the premier coaches in the nation on any level and winning that many games is quite an accomplishment, although by all accounts the impact he has had on so many young people over the years is just as impressive as all those victories.

Chaffee High graduate Jason Mott, who spent the past four seasons as a SEMO basketball manager, is currently a marketing intern with the Nashville Predators of the NHL.

Marty Mishow is a sports writer for the Southeast Missourian

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