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Indians find fun on the bayou with opening win
NEW ORLEANS -- Thanksgiving turned into quite a holiday for Southeast Missouri State University's basketball team.
The Indians, 12 1/2 point underdogs to Horizon League favorite Wisconsin-Milwaukee, stunned the Panthers 89-75 Thursday in the opening round of the six-team University Hoops Classic.
Southeast (2-1) plays Indiana State at 5 p.m. today. A win would put the Indians into Sunday's tournament championship game, but first things first. Before turning their attention to Indiana State, Southeast wanted to savor Thursday's win for a while.
"This early in the year, I don't know if you can call it a great win," Southeast coach Gary Garner said. "But it's a really good win. It's the first good team we've beaten since going 6-22 last year. We're looking for any kind of confidence we can get and this has got to help."
No doubt about it, say the Indians.
"To beat a great team like that, it can't get much better," sophomore guard Derek Winans said.
Said senior forward Tim Scheer, "It's a major confidence boost. The way we played together, the way everybody was into it, the way the bench got into it. This is really going to help us."
The Indians, who overcame a 40-39 halftime deficit with a strong start to the second half as they turned the contest into a blowout, had a number of stars as all eight players who saw action contributed.
Winans scored a game-high 25 points, hitting 10 of 15 shots from the field, including four of eight 3-pointers. He had seven rebounds and three assists.
Scheer, who missed the season opener and played little in the second game because of a strained calf muscle, showed he was healthy by scoring 23 points off the bench, including 15 in the second half. Scheer hit six of eight shots and was perfect in four 3-point attempts.
"It's amazing how much better you feel when you hit a few jumpers," said Scheer, smiling.
Brett Hale scored 17 points -- he hit three of four 3-pointers -- and did a strong job defensively on Panthers' star Clay Tucker, who had 22 points but had just eight until a late offensive splurge when the game was already out of reach.
"He's a good player. I just tried to stay on him and make him work," Hale said.
Junior forward Damarcus Hence also had 17 points and continued his solid work on the boards with eight rebounds. Hence also contributed four assists and blocked three shots.
Junior center Brandon Griffin scored just four points but once again was a monster on the boards with 14 rebounds, helping the Indians to a 42-36 edge on the glass. Griffin added four assists.
As good as all those players were, though, Thursday's Southeast MVP just might have been sophomore point guard Kevin Roberts, who almost singlehandedly broke the Panthers' press much of the game. Roberts scored one point, but he had five assists, five rebounds and just one turnover.
"Their press creates a lot of stuff, and we knew if we could handle it, we would have a good chance to win," Roberts said. "I know I'm not a scorer, I just try to handle the ball and get everybody else going."
Even 6-foot-11 sophomore center Adam Crader did his part, despite playing just four minutes. Crader hit two big free throws and grabbed three rebounds.
Senior guard Demetrius King did not attempt a shot, but he had a hand in the defensive effort on Tucker during the time he was in the game.
"I told the players in the locker room that everybody who played had a big part in this win, and even the guys on the bench. They were really into the game," Garner said. "Derek Winans was a real warrior and Kevin Roberts really had a great game. He has such great court vision."
Garner also praised Southeast assistant coach Keno Davis, who was an assistant under Panthers' coach Bruce Pearl at Southern Indiana. Pearl also was a longtime assistant to former Iowa coach Tom Davis, who is Keno's father.
"Keno had a great scouting report for us," Garner said. "He really knew that team inside out. We were so prepared for everything they did."
The Indians sizzled from 3-point range, hitting 13 of 23 for 56.5 percent. But perhaps more important was their rebounding and solid work against the Panthers' press.
"Rebounding was the biggest thing. We rebounded better than we have all year," Winans said. "And we did a good job against their press, which was important. Kevin had a great game against the press."
The Panthers (1-2) scored the game's first seven points and also led 9-2 before Southeast settled in. The Indians had several first-half leads and entered the intermission down just 40-39.
Hale scored Southeast's first five points of the second half and his two free throws gave the Indians a 44-43 lead that they never relinquished. Southeast held the Panthers to just nine points over the first 13-plus minutes of the final half and the Indians led by as many as 19 points in the late going.
"I kept thinking they were going to make a big run but they never did," Garner said.
And as a result the Indians have their second win of the season much earlier than they got it last year, when they started out 1-8 before finally getting victory No. 2.
"This game shows the capabilities of our team," Winans said. "We think we can play with anybody."
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