Southeast Missouri State University basketball coach Gary Garner was concerned prior to Sunday's game at Creighton that a lopsided loss might shake the Indians' confidence as they get ready to start Ohio Valley Conference play.
But even though Southeast did lose decisively -- undefeated Creighton posted a 93-70 victory in Omaha, Neb., and moved up to 15th Monday in the Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today polls -- Garner says the Indians will enter Saturday night's OVC opener against visiting Eastern Illinois with their heads up.
The Indians (5-6) never seriously threatened Creighton (10-0) after the first 10 minutes of the game but did perform well enough so that Garner and his players believe the loss won't damage Southeast at all.
"I was worried if we got beat really bad, what that might do to us," Garner said. "We did get beat bad, but some of the things we did, I think we can take a lot away from the game.
"I think we can build on a game like this. I don't know if 'build' is the right word, but I don't think it will hurt us."
Creighton's pressure defense and depth were the contest's biggest factors, Garner said. The Bluejays frequently send in fresh, quality players while Southeast has an extremely thin bench.
Southeast handled Creigh-ton's pressure well for the first 10 1/2 minutes and trailed just 26-24. But then a 12-0 run -- fueled by several Indian turnovers -- broke open the game. The Indians finished with 17 turnovers, not an alarmingly high total, but Creighton had a 30-4 margin in points off turnovers, and the Bluejays' bench outscored Southeast's reserves 42-4.
"We won't see a press like that all year," Garner said. "The press bothered us, but I think it was more their depth. Early in the game we handled it, but I really think we got tired and when that happens you become a half-step slow.
"But overall, I thought we played pretty well. The first 10 minutes or so, we really shot the ball well, and we really executed our offense."
The Indians shot 60.9 percent from the field in the first half and finished the game at 49.2 percent. They outrebounded the Bluejays 34 to 32.
Tim Scheer, who led the Indians with 20 points, said the game should help the Indians once the OVC schedule begins.
"I thought we played pretty good against a really good team," Scheer said. "The way we competed, if we play like that in the OVC, I think we should do pretty good."
Derek Winans, who scored 13 points, agreed.
"I think this game will help us, not hurt us," Winans said. "If anything, it shows we can play with a team like Creighton when we run our offense and take care of the ball."
Given the Indians' tough pre-conference schedule that's led to its 5-6 record, Garner said he's pleased with the progress they're making and figures the schedule should benefit Southeast in the OVC.
"When you're 5-6, you can't be satisfied," Garner said. "But with the schedule we've played, coming off the year we had, the injury to Reggie Golson, I feel like our players have done well.
"I'm optimistic about conference play right now."
As the league schedule begins this week, Garner thinks things are shaping up pretty much the way most people predicted in the preseason. Murray State and Tennessee Tech were the overwhelming favorites, Morehead State was a solid third and there didn't seem to be all that much difference between the remaining six teams.
"Murray State and Tennessee Tech are heavy favorites," Garner said. "Morehead State has Ricky Minard, who is one of the best players in the conference, but looking at their scores, they've been kind of up and down, so you never know.
"But after that, it's wide open. Our goal has been and still is to get at least that fourth spot, get a home game in the first round of the conference tournament and get to Nashville. I know a lot of teams are thinking the same thing, and believing they can do it."
Getting off to a fast start is always important once the conference season begins, meaning Saturday's game against Eastern Illinois and reigning OVC Player of the Year Henry Domercant is vital.
"Saturday night is just huge," Garner said. "If you lose it's not the end of the world because you still have 15 conference games left. But, being at home, it's really big."
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