When I last saw the outside world last Saturday, it was a dreary, drab Midwestern winter day, with a light mist falling outside SIU Arena before a Missouri Valley tilt between Evansville and Southern Illinois. After the SIU victory, it was back off to Cape Girardeau for a pair of games, including the back end of a mid-majority doubleheader. After the game, you would have sworn it was a completely different day outside. Gone were the light mist and dark clouds, and out came the sunshine. While traversing the 45 miles to the Cape, it seemed fitting after all. Both Southeast Missouri State and Tennessee State were looking towards a top-two finish, earning that protected double bye into the semifinals the first week of March in Nashville.
The Show-Me Center was the site of this throwback doubleheader, but before the men could take the floor, the Southeast women would be the showcase as they also took on the Tigers of Tennessee State. It was the pink game for Southeast, a promotion quite common in the women's game where they encourage fans to wear pink as it serves also as a fundraiser for breast cancer awareness for the Kay Yow Cancer Fund, the women's equivalent of the promotion where the coaching staffs on the men's side wear sneakers instead of dress shoes on the sidelines. Teams will also feature pink accents in their uniforms and/or shoes as part of the promotion. Southeast, rocking some pink shoes for the occasion, won the battle of pace and kept the Lady Tigers from getting into their preferred up-and-down game. As a result, the Redhawks got the doubleheader started in style for the home fans with a 50-39 victory as the lead-in to the men.
The back-to-back doubleheader is a unique phenomena in our game. As the women's game continues on, the crowd starts to file into the arena for the men's game. The crowd builds, and as the second half winds to a conclusion, the amount of fans in the stands grows, often to numbers the players will not play in front of in a standalone game all season. The neat thing, at least in my area of the arena, was that these fans were also knowledgeable about the women's team, even though it appears they were coming in for only the men's game. A number of fans who just arrived were not only cheering on their beloved Redhawks, but also referring to players by name in good times and in bad. It's a unique trait that can be traced back to Southeast being the only school in town with the locals rallying around the team.
It just so happened to be the seventh birthday for Rowdy the Redhawk and on hand to celebrate was Fredbird, mascot of the World Champion St. Louis Cardinals. Rowdy came to be shortly after Southeast became the Redhawks after years of being nicknamed the Indians. Like any mascot, Rowdy is quite a hit with the kids; combine him with the antics of Fredbird in the heart of Cardinal country, and everyone joins in to serenade Rowdy in Happy Birthday between games.
Southeast Missouri came into this game off a tough loss. They led at Murray State before Isaiah Canaan went off on them. They were merely the last to fall victim to such a thing after all, as Murray is still undefeated and climbing up the top 10. Things hadn't changed much for the Redhawks, as Tennessee State came out hot, hitting a number of threes before two words changed momentum with the Tigers up 23-9. It just so happens a memo touting the values of sportsmanship has made the rounds with NCAA officials and screaming out "AND ONE" after hitting a shot where you believed you got fouled will earn you a T; just ask TSU's Kellen Thornton. The T party didn't stop there. This was a very physical and emotional game, and less than a minute later, some jawing earned a double T. Those Ts slowed down some of the extracurriculars while seeming to settle Southeast who flipped that 14-point deficit and turned it into a 35-30 lead at the half.
The second half featured more physical play, with TSU being the beneficiary. Southeast got the lead all the way up to eight at one point, but they struggled to get the ball inside to post players or to drive it into the lane. TSU's aggressive play on the offensive end caused an irate Dickey Nutt to throw his jacket away in anger and let the entire arena know with a simple point up at the scoreboard that the fouls were 10-2 against his Redhawks. But TSU's ability to force turnovers and grab offensive rebounds was the story here. This allowed TSU to open up their own eight-point lead down the stretch. Paced by Robert Covington's double-double of 23 points and 13 rebounds, TSU got a big road win 75-72.
Rowdy's birthday was bittersweet, as his women got a win, but the loss for the men recapped a week of what might have been. Now they are in a battle for the second seed with not only TSU, but also Tennessee Tech, with others only a game behind them, as an OVC record of 7-4 looks much different than the 7-2 mark they had to begin the week. You only get so many of these type of opportunities in OVC play to prove yourself and give you a chance to only play and ultimately win two in Nashville, to book one of the first tickets to the Big Dance next month.
TENNESSEE STATE 75, at SOUTHEAST MISSOURI 72 02/04/2012
TENNESSEE STATE 15-10 (8-4) -- P. Miller 2-6 2-5 6; W. Peters 1-3 0-0 2; R. Covington 9-17 3-4 23; K. Thornton 4-9 7-10 15; M. Rhett 2-4 2-5 6; J. Cyphers 2-8 5-5 9; K. Moore 4-11 0-0 11; J. Harris 1-1 1-2 3; C. Conner 0-0 0-0 0; M. Bawa 0-0 0-0 0; M. Green 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-59 20-31 75. SOUTHEAST MISSOURI 12-11 (7-4) -- M. Brister 1-11 0-2 2; M. Smith 7-16 0-1 16; L. Powell 5-9 3-5 13; C. Wilford 6-15 0-0 16; T. Stone 3-6 1-2 7; L. Nutt 4-8 2-2 14; N. Johnson 1-1 2-2 4; M. Porter 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 27-66 8-14 72.
Three-point goals: TSU 5-13 (W. Peters 0-1; J. Cyphers 0-3; R. Covington 2-4; P. Miller 0-1; K. Moore 3-4), SEMO 10-24 (T. Stone 0-1; L. Nutt 4-6; M. Smith 2-8; C. Wilford 4-9); Rebounds: TSU 33 (R. Covington 13), SEMO 42 (L. Powell 10); Assists: TSU 7 (W. Peters 3), SEMO 15 (M. Brister 4); Total Fouls -- TSU 15, SEMO 23; Fouled Out: TSU-None; SEMO-L. Powell.