SE begins last push for OVC tourney

Thursday, February 14, 2002

On Jan. 17, Tennessee-Martin handed Southeast Missouri State University its most decisive Ohio Valley Conference loss of the season, the 89-73 final score not even indicative of how lopsided the game was.

"We were essentially never in the game," said Southeast coach Gary Garner, whose squad trailed by 17 points at halftime, fell behind by more than 20 points early in the second half and never seriously challenged the rest of the way.

"We lost by 16, but it was more than that. That was one of our weakest performances of the year, the one conference game we were never in."

Tonight, the Indians (4-19, 2-10 OVC) hope for a much better showing when the Skyhawks (13-11, 5-7) visit the Show Me Center in the opener of Southeast's final homestand of the year, an important three-game set. The tipoff will be at 7:30 p.m.

The Indians are in last-place in the nine-team league but still very much within striking distance of slipping into the eighth and final spot in the OVC Tournament. Southeast trails Eastern Kentucky (3-10) by one-half game but owns the tie-breaker over the Colonels by virtue of sweeping the season series. The Indians also play three of their four remaining OVC games at home while the Colonels play two of their three games left on the road.

"We just want to get in the tournament. Once you do that, anything can happen," Garner said. "We need to pick up some wins during this homestand."

UTM is in seventh place in the OVC but the Skyhawks are just two games out of second place in what is a scrambled race for the Nos. 2 through 7 spots.

But the Skyhawks, who got off to a 4-1 conference start, have lost six of their last seven games.

"They we really playing well when we played them earlier," Garner said. "They're evidently not playing as well now, but they've still got a good basketball team."

What concerns Garner the most about tonight's game is UTM's ability to create havoc defensively. The Skyhawks lead the OVC in turnover margin with plus 4.54 per game as they force an average of 19.6 turnovers per contest. Southeast had 19 turnovers in the earlier meeting, with many of them leading to easy baskets.

"That's their strength, turning turnovers into points," Garner said. "Our biggest emphasis for this game will be taking care of the basketball."

Spearheading UTM's pressure defense is quick senior point guard Jair Peralta, who leads the OVC in assists with 5.9 per game. Peralta also averages 12.4 points a contest.

The Skyhawks' leading scorers are senior forward Brian Foster (14.7) and senior center Jeremy Sargent (13.0), who is third in the league in rebounding (8.3) and first in blocked shots (2.7).

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