If Southeast Missouri State University is going to extend its winning streak to three games, the Indians will have to knock off the Ohio Valley Conference's hottest team.
Murray State will carry a five-game winning streak -- including a 19-point triumph over Tennessee Tech, which has already wrapped up the OVC regular-season title -- into tonight's contest at the Show Me Center.
"They're playing better than anybody in the league right now," Southeast coach Gary Garner said.
The Racers (14-11, 8-5) are second in the OVC. The Indians (5-19, 3-10) are tied for eighth with Eastern Kentucky as both squads have three games remaining. Southeast won both meetings with the Colonels this year, so if the teams wind up deadlocked, the Indians claim the eighth and final spot in the OVC Tournament.
"It's a really big game for us," Southeast junior forward Tim Scheer said. "We've put ourselves in a good position to get into the tournament, but we still need to win some more games."
The Racers will pose a big challenge. They ended Eastern Illinois' 23-game home winning streak 77-76 on Thursday as just one of a recent string of impressive victories.
"When you catch a team is so important," Garner said. "When we played them a few weeks ago, they weren't playing real well. Now they're evidently playing very well."
On Jan. 19, Murray State pulled away late to beat visiting Southeast 85-72 behind 33 points from senior guard Justin Burdine. That was the only victory during a struggling six-game stretch for the Racers that preceded their hot streak.
Burdine is the OVC's fourth-leading scorer at 20.2 points per game and three other Racers average in double figures. Antione Whelchel, a 6-foot-5 junior forward, is at 12.2 points per game, followed by 6-8 junior center James Singleton (11.7) and 6-5 sophomore forward Cuthburt Victor (10.2).
Singleton is the OVC's top rebounder with 9.6 per game and he ranks third in field-goal percentage at .601. The Racers lead the league in offensive rebounding and are second in rebounding margin (plus 5.3).
"Burdine is a great player and Singleton, who didn't play well against us last time, is playing well now," Garner said. "They really hit the boards, which is a concern for us."
Southeast ranks eighth in the OVC in rebounding margin (minus 4.5), but the Indians have improved dramatically on the boards in recent weeks. They outrebounded Tennessee-Martin by nine Thursday night on their way to a 78-51 romp, which gave them their first two-game winning streak of the season.
"It's not like we've won 20 games, but winning two in a row, our confidence will be good," Garner said.
The Murray State-Southeast rivalry might have lost some of its luster because of the Indians' struggles this season, but there's still likely to be plenty of excitement at the Show Me Center tonight.
"It's still Murray State," Scheer said. "It's still a big rivalry for us."
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