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Indians face EIU in home finale
Southeast Missouri State University men's basketball coach Gary Garner couldn't be happier his only senior has bounced back from adversity to enjoy a solid final season.
Monte Gordon, who has overcome his share of problems during his two-year Southeast career, will play his final home game tonight as the Indians face Eastern Illinois at the Show Me Center. The contest will be televised live by Fox Sports Net South, which goes into 11 million homes in the southern United States.
"I'm really happy for Monte because he's had to go through a lot since he's been here," Garner said.
Gordon, a 6-foot-5, 225-pound forward, came to Southeast last season after starring at Kankakee (Ill.) Community College. But he was hampered by an assortment of injuries and illnesses and saw limited action in just 11 games, averaging 3.2 points.
When this season rolled around, Gordon was academically ineligible for the first semester's six games, then missed the next three games with a racing heart that also plagued him last year.
But Gordon finally got the heart problem under control and he's been a solid contributor for the Indians ever since. In 15 games, including five starts, Gordon is averaging 7.3 points while shooting a sizzling 63.5 percent from the field, including 69.6 percent in the last six games, five of which he has started.
"He's really helped us, no question," Garner said. "He's our only senior and it's nice to see him have a good year after finally getting healthy."
Needing a victoryIf the season ended now, Southeast (5-20, 3-11) would gain the eighth and final spot in the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament. That's because the Indians, who are tied for eighth place in the nine-team league with Eastern Kentucky, own the tie-breaker edge over the Colonels by having swept the season series.
But Garner would feel a lot more comfortable about getting into the tourney if the Indians could pick up at least one more win in their final two games, including Saturday's contest at Austin Peay. Eastern Kentucky's last two games, both on the road, are against Murray State Thursday and Tennessee-Martin Saturday.
"I can't see Eastern Kentucky going to Murray and Martin and winning both, so one more win would probably get us in," Garner said. "But we feel like we can win both of these last two games."
The challenge for the Indians against Eastern Illinois (14-13, 6-7) will be slowing down 6-foot-4 junior swingman Henry Domercant, the OVC's leading scorer who ranks second nationally with 26.4 points per game. Domercant had 38 points when the Panthers rallied past Southeast 84-74 on Jan. 5 in Charleston, Ill.
"Playing Henry Domercant is a tremendous challenge," Garner said.
Asked if the Indians have a specific plan to try and slow down Domercant, a laughing Garner said, "We have a plan. But we had a plan last time and he scored 38, so we're going to change that plan."
Lost big lead
Southeast, which has won two of its last three games and appears to be playing better than it has all season, led Eastern Illinois 61-43 with 10 minutes remaining in the earlier meeting. But a flurry of turnovers helped the Panthers rally for a 74-74 tie with less than two minutes left and they scored the game's final 10 points.
"We didn't finish that game very good at all," Garner said. "Late turnovers really killed us."
Domercant is the only Panther scoring in double figures. Jesse Mackinson, a 6-8 sophomore center, and 6-3 junior guard J.R. Reynolds average 9.6 and 9.5 points, respectively. Reynolds missed the earlier game with an injury.
Winans honoredFor the fifth time this season, Southeast redshirt freshman guard Derek Winans has been selected OVC Rookie of the Week. He had 32 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists in the Indians' two games last week.
Winans, probably the leading candidate for OVC Freshman of the Year, leads the Indians in scoring (14.5 ppg), 3-pointers (47), steals (36), assists (72) and minutes played (34.7) while ranking third in rebounding (4.8 rpg).
Winans is ranked in eight OVC statistical categories, including ninth in scoring, eighth in assists and 10th in steals.
Southeast walk-on freshman point guard Kevin Roberts continues to earn praise from Garner.
Roberts, who saw considerable action early in the season when the Indians were shorthanded but had not been playing much in recent weeks, was pressed into service Thursday against Tennessee-Martin when Kenny Johnson was out with the flu.
Roberts responded with six assists and just one turnover in 16 minutes as the Indians romped 78-51, then came back with five assists and one turnover in 18 minutes Saturday night as Southeast narrowly lost to Murray State 92-86. Roberts scored 10 points in the two games.
"I just can't say enough about the job Kevin is doing, especially for a walk-on," said Garner, who indicated that Roberts has now moved into the primary backup role behind starting point guard Brett Hale. "He's such an intelligent player. He'll make the right decision 99 times out of a 100."