Southeast Missouri State University's men's basketball team won just one road game all of last season -- and the Indians had to wait until Feb. 9 to do it.
So it was understandable that virtually all of Southeast's players and coaches sported big smiles Saturday night following the Indians' first road victory of this season, 66-58 over the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
The Indians (4-4) have won one other game away from home this year, but that was at the neutral-site Tulane Hoops Classic.
"You don't know how good this one feels," Southeast coach Gary Garner said. "It was a long time last year waiting until February for our first road win."
Said sophomore guard Derek Winans, "It's a lot better to get our first true road win now than it was last year, waiting all the way until February. This feels really good."
Southeast also didn't win its fourth game of last season until that February victory at Eastern Kentucky. The Indians wound up with a 6-22 record a year ago.
"It's nice to be off to a lot better start than we had last year," Winans said. "It's a huge win for us. We came out ready to play."
Winans and junior forward Damarcus Hence carried the bulk of the offensive load against the winless Kangaroos (0-6). Hence led the way with a career-high 25 points.
"It's a real big road win for us," Hence said.
Winans had 20 points -- he hit five of eight 3-pointers -- to go along with eight rebounds and five assists.
"We executed our offense and picked up our defense," Winans said.
Particularly impressive was the defensive work the Indians did on UMKC guard Michael Watson, the nation's leading scorer who entered the contest averaging 31.4 points per game.
Watson scored 28 points but he hit just seven of 22 shots from the field. Winans guarded Watson to start the game but that changed after he picked up two early fouls. Sophomore guards Brett Hale and Kevin Roberts took turns defending Watson the rest of the first half but that changed early in the second half when Hale injured his back and did not return.
Then it was left up to Roberts to harass Watson virtually the entire second half. And he came through with flying colors in addition to recording six assists with no turnovers in a big performance off the bench.
"I just tried to make it as tough as possible on him," Roberts said. "I tried to keep him from getting the ball, but if he did, I just wanted to make him have to take as tough a shot as possible."
Senior guard Demetrius King also came up big off the bench, scoring 10 points -- all in the second half -- while grabbing six rebounds.
King, after misfiring badly on several earlier shots, hit consecutive 3-pointers late after UMKC had pulled to within four points. He also made all three free throws after being fouled on a late 3-point attempt.
"It felt good to knock down those shots," King said. "I just tried to keep my confidence up. This is a big win for us."
Senior forward Tim Scheer, although he scored just four points, grabbed a career-high eight rebounds. And junior center Brandon Griffin, despite scoring just five points, pulled down seven rebounds as the Indians won the battle of the boards 43-33.
"Rebounding was big tonight," Scheer said. "If we can keep rebounding like that, we should be in good shape."
Southeast also got a lift from freshman forward Cole Grapperhaus, who had not seen much action in recent games but played seven solid first-half minutes when Griffin got into foul trouble.
"Cole gave us a big lift in the first half," Garner said. "I thought all our guys played well. And the big thing is, I can't tell you how pleased I am with the poise we showed late in the game when they made their runs."
After falling behind by 11 points early in the second half, UMKC pulled to within one before Southeast regained control. And the Kangaroos made several other late runs, only to be rebuffed every time.
The Indians finally sealed the victory from the free-throw line as they made six of eight foul shots in the final 1:03. Winans was 3-for-4 and Roberts went 2-for-2.
"We were able to hit our free throws at the end when we needed them," Roberts said.
Now the Indians will at least take some confidence into their next road game -- and they're really going to need it.
Southeast plays at talented Arkansas-Little Rock (5-3) Tuesday night. The Trojans returned every starter from last year's 18-11 team that beat the Indians at the Show Me Center. UALR recently lost to nationally-ranked Minnesota in overtime.
"That's going to be a really tough game for us, but winning this one will help," Winans said. "Now we know we can win on the road. It should really help our confidence."
***Hale's status for Tuesday is questionable. The same goes for junior forward Reggie Golson, who sat out the last two games and has played in just one contest following September knee surgery.
***Sophomore reserve center Adam Crader, who did not play Saturday because of a slight groin strain, should be available Tuesday.