SEMO tries to maintain hex on EKU
Thursday, January 9, 2003
Indians have won nine straight games against Colonels.
By Marty Mishow ~ Southeast Missourian
RICHMOND, Ky. -- Either Southeast Missouri State University or Eastern Kentucky will equal its win total from all of last season tonight.
The Indians hope it's them and not the host Colonels -- but for more reasons than simply matching last year's six victories.
Southeast, after losing its Ohio Valley Conference opener at home to Eastern Illinois Saturday night, is desperately trying to keep from falling into an 0-2 league hole, especially since they play at tough Morehead State Saturday night.
"All games are important, but after losing our first conference game at home, we really need to bounce back," Southeast coach Gary Garner said.
The Indians (5-7, 0-1) have beaten the Colonels (6-5, 1-0) nine straight times, but this appears to be a significantly improved EKU squad.
Coached by former Kentucky star Travis Ford, the Colonels opened OVC play Saturday with a 109-83 romp at struggling Tennessee State.
"They're definitely improved," Garner said. "They're not a great team, but they're a lot better than they have been."
The Colonels have finished in the OVC's cellar the past four seasons, including the last two under Ford, whose first two EKU squads each won seven games.
Ford said the improvement in this year's Colonels is significant, even if their increase in talent level is not overwhelming.
"No question, this is the best team since I've been here," Ford said. "Team chemistry is the biggest thing. They really get along on and off the court.
"We don't have a whole lot more talent, but the biggest thing is these guys just want to go out and compete and try to win. They work hard every day in practice. I really enjoy coaching this team."
Freshman leads Colonels in scoring
The Colonels' leading scorer is 6-foot freshman guard Matt Witt, who is averaging 14.1 points per game after averaging more than 34 points as a high school senior in Ohio last season. Witt is shooting nearly 37 percent from 3-point range and he is also EKU's top assist man with 50.
"Matt's a competitor," Ford said. "He's a young man that comes in and plays with a lot of energy. He's only a freshman and he's making a lot of mistakes, but he's also doing a lot of things well."
Also averaging in double figures for the Colonels are 6-3 senior guard Shawn Fields (13.6 ppg) and 6-9 junior forward Jon Bentley (12.9 ppg). Fields was a second-team all-OVC pick last year.
Ben Rushing, a 5-11 sophomore guard, is the Colonels' top 3-point threat at 40 percent. Fields shoots 36 percent from long distance.
"Their perimeter people are really skilled. They can really score," Garner said.
The Colonels displayed their shooting skills during Saturday's 26-point rout of Tennessee State as they outscored the Tigers 70-45 in the second half after leading by just one point at halftime. EKU hit 14 of 25 3-pointers, including 6-for-10 by Rushing and 5-for-8 by Witt.
"We came out and really shot the ball well the second half," Ford said. "I've always said, when you make shots, that makes every other part of your game that much better."
Southeast is coming off Saturday's disappointing 85-75 loss to Eastern Illinois. Garner didn't like the Indians' intensity and defense as the Panthers shot 70 percent in the second half.
"Defense is my biggest concern. We're allowing 48 percent field-goal shooting. We have to get better on the defensive side of the floor," Garner said. "And we need a better effort. Our intensity wasn't what it should have been for an OVC game."
Ford looks for the Indians to elevate their intensity tonight, which he figures will make breaking a nine-game losing streak to Southeast difficult.
"I think they're a very good basketball team, much better than last year even though they beat us twice last year," Ford said. "We've definitely got our hands full against a team that we've had trouble with my first two years in the conference."
Southeast junior center Brandon Griffin continues to be tied with Murray State's James Singleton for the OVC rebounding lead with 10.3 per game. Griffin, who is 11th nationally in rebounding, leads the league in offensive rebounding.
Sophomore guard Derek Winans is second in the league in assists (4.58) while fellow sophomore guard Kevin Roberts is fifth (4.0). In assist-to-turnover ratio, Roberts is first and Winans second.
Senior guard Demetrius King is fourth in conference 3-point shooting (46.2 percent), senior forward Tim Scheer is eighth (41.9 percent) and Winans ranks ninth (41.7 percent).
Winans is seventh in the OVC in scoring (15.1 ppg). Also averaging in double figures for the Indians are junior forward Damarcus Hence (12.8 ppg), Griffin (11.6 ppg) and Scheer (11.4 ppg).