Division title slips away from Southeast Missouri State men's basketball in finale loss
A first-ever Ohio Valley Conference West Division title and an automatic spot in the semifinals of the conference tournament.
The Southeast Missouri State men's basketball team understood what was at stake heading into Saturday's regular-season finale against Austin Peay, and now the Redhawks are hoping that regret won't interfere with what's ahead.
Southeast ran into a brick wall offensively and allowed the Governors to shoot 56 percent from 3-point range, as senior John Murry played his final college game and finished with a career-high 33 points and seven rebounds in leading APSU to an 88-79 win over the Redhawks on Senior Day at the Show Me Center.
With the loss, Southeast (14-17, 9-7 OVC) assumes the No. 5 seed in the OVC Tournament and will square off against eighth-seeded Tennessee State at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at Municipal Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee. The two teams met earlier this season (Jan. 5), as the host Tigers won 65-62.
"[This is] a disappointing loss, obviously, and I told our guys before the game that there was three things that could beat us. And it all boiled down to us beating ourselves," Redhawks coach Rick Ray said. "The first thing is not defending. I said, 'If we don't have an interest in defending and just outscoring Austin Peay, that could very well lead to a loss.'
"The second thing was us going out there and jacking shots early in the shot clock. They're the worst defensive team in the OVC, and so if we just moved the basketball and didn't settle, then we would have some opportunities. ... The third thing was just our mental state. Us going out there thinking we're better than Austin Peay, us not going out there and competing with a fire -- just thinking that Austin Peay was going to come over here and lay down and die.
"At the end of the day, we did those three things, and we did them to ourselves. And so we deserve what we got."
The Redhawks shot an abysmal 16 percent (4 of 25) from beyond the arc, including 1 of 9 (11.1 percent) in the second half alone, and finished 27 of 72 (37.5 percent) from the floor.
"You've got to be mentally tough enough to not let the shot that you just missed or that your teammate just missed affect your next shot," Ray said, "and just, like, when things are rolling for us, when we're shooting the ball well and everybody's making 3s, it becomes contagious -- the same thing can happen in a negative way. I thought it happened in a negative way for us. We came to vicariously live through our 3."
APSU (11-19, 7-9) took an 8-5 lead with 16 minutes, 51 seconds remaining in the first half, as Jared Savage got a steal and threw down a dunk on the other end, drawing contact from Antonius Cleveland and knocking down the free throw to complete the three-point play.
Southeast freshman Denzel Mahoney hit a pair of free throws to tie the game at 21-21 with 9:07 left before halftime, but Savage answered with a trey from the right wing, sparking a 15-2 swing that ended when Dre'Kalo Clayton drained a 3 from the right corner to give APSU a 36-23 lead at the 3:59 mark of the opening half.
Southeast used a 17-5 swing to cut the Govs' lead to 41-40 at halftime, a run that picked up momentum when Clayton was ejected from the game after getting called for back-to-back technical fouls with 1:48 to go in the half.
"The shame, when it's all said and done, is that it took Austin Peay doing something wrong ... to get our team going," Ray said. "It took somebody else doing something instead of us doing it."
The Redhawks shot 31.4 percent (11 of 35) from the field in the first half, but they were steadied by their willingness to attack APSU inside and capitalize on the visitors' mistakes.
In the first half, Southeast was 15 of 19 from the free-throw line, while the hosts scored 16 points on 11 turnovers by the Govs.
Nevertheless, the Redhawks' 3-point shooting woes resulted in an 18.8-percent clip (3 of 16) at halftime.
"I think we kind of settled, but at the same time, we just didn't make shots that we normally make," Cleveland said. "The ball just didn't fall our way the first half."
A 10-foot jumper by Kenny Jones capped an 11-4 run for the visitors to start the second half, extending APSU's lead to 52-46.
Josh Robinson knocked down a trey from the top of the arc to push the Govs' lead to eight points, 66-58, before the Redhawks countered with a 14-5 run that culminated when Cleveland drained a 15-foot jumper to give the hosts a 72-71 advantage with 6:17 to play. Murry hit a pair of free throws to move APSU ahead, 73-72, and the Govs never trailed the rest of the way.
Southeast was 2 of 9 from the field during the final 5:34 of the game, while APSU shot 9 of 10 from the charity stripe during that span.
Trey Kellum finished with 20 points and 12 rebounds to lead the way for the Redhawks, while Cleveland added 20 points and eight boards. Mahoney finished with 20 points.
That trio of players shot 50 percent (19 of 38) from the floor, while the rest of the team finished 8 of 34 (23.5 percent).
"The ball was kind of sticking on one side of the floor. ... We didn't get a lot of touches to the guards, and they didn't feel comfortable taking those shots," Kellum said. "We've got to know -- me, [Cleveland] and Denzel -- that these guys feed off our energy, and we've got to be there to support them even when they're down."
Jones shot 8 of 11 from the field and had 18 points and 10 rebounds, while Savage, who was 3 of 6 from 3-point range, finished with 20 points and six boards.
Robinson pitched in 14 points and four assists for the Govs, who finished 14 of 25 from beyond the arc. Murry led APSU's deep threat, finishing 5 of 6 from long range.
"The problem for us was, in our 1-3-1 defense, our wings didn't do their job," Ray said. "They were supposed to come up and take away the 3-point shots, and every single time, they kind of stopped or didn't go all the way. They've got two of the best scorers in the Ohio Valley Conference, and we sat there and watched them shoot 3s in our 1-3-1 defense.
"For us, when our 1-3-1 defense is not going well for us, obviously we've got to go back to our man-to-man defense, and obviously we're just not very good in man-to-man."
A year removed from winning the OVC tournament as the No. 8 seed, the Govs failed to qualify for the postseason.
APSU coach Dave Loos, the winningest coach in OVC history, wraps up his 27th season at the helm with some uncertainty ahead. Loos was diagnosed with cancer during the summer and missed four games in January while nearing the end of his chemotherapy.
On the other hand, Southeast will try to move forward and forget about Saturday's loss. It will continue its season on Wednesday in an arena 3 1/2 hours away from Cape Girardeau.
"There's very few times in your life you get to call yourself a champion, and we let it slip through our fingers by not doing the things that we're more than capable of doing," Ray said. "It's a learning lesson, but it's a hard learning lesson."