Column: Southeast hoops showing potential isn't admirable, it's infuriating

Southeast Missouri State sophomore forward Sage Tolbert (23) goes to the free-throw line in a recent game against Tennessee State at the Show Me Center.
Tyler Graef ~ Southeast Missourian

The Southeast Missouri State men’s basketball squad did on Saturday what it has shown the ability to do – at times – this season, which is play competitive basketball.

“I don’t want our guys getting wrapped up in moral victories and settling for (being competitive),” veteran Redhawk coach Rick Ray said following the game against Murray State at the Show Me Center.

The Redhawks fell to the Ohio Valley Conference-power 96-91 in overtime in front of nearly 1,800 fans, and in doing so, this program demonstrated that it has ability, which makes being the lone winless team in the conference inexcusable.

Much like its league games with Belmont and Tennessee State, Southeast (4-15, 0-6 OVC) exhibited against Murray State the ability to compete with any team in this league. However, the Redhawks also have shown a gross level of immaturity in their ability to be crushed by any opponent, as well.

In seven of the 12 quarters played against OVC teams, the Redhawks have been competitive. In five, they have not. Both of those traits were on full display Saturday and that wild degree of inconsistency shouldn’t be tolerated any further.

“We did some things really well,” Ray said, “but now, what do we do moving forward? Are we satisfied with doing what we are supposed to do, which is to fight and compete and give an effort?”

Ray doesn’t know the answer to that question because neither do his players.

Six games into league play, what is clear is that this team has the ability at both ends of the floor, which makes what has unfolded over the past two-plus months unacceptable, to say the least.

It is easy to point to the fact that Murray had a 19-2 run on the Redhawks in the first half and think this Southeast team doesn’t care. But that Ray’s team responded to a 37-20 first-half hole by closing the opening period on a 20-4 run of its own shows that isn’t the case.

It’s easy to see the Racers shoot a scorching 57.7 percent from the field, including 60 percent from 3-point range, and deduce that the Redhawks can’t guard, but during that first-half run, Ray said his players’ effort at the defensive end is what enabled them to have a chance at victory.

“I was really pleased with the fact that we came back with our defense,” Ray said. “Our defense turned into offense.”

The OVC season statistics state that Southeast is the worst offensive AND defensive team in the league. The conference standings back that up. However, if this team was truly bad, how does it play Belmont tough for 20 minutes, Tennessee State for 40, and Murray State for 45?

The answer is that the Redhawks aren’t terrible, but because of their immaturity, they have performed horrendously. That is 50 percent the fault of the players and 50 percent the fault of the Southeast coaches.

The worst offensive team in the league shouldn’t be able to shoot 51 percent against Murray State and take it to overtime.

The worst defensive team in the league shouldn’t be able to hold the Racers to four points over 6:01 as it climbs back into the game.

“We didn’t talk about Xs and Os against Murray State,” Ray said, “we talked about our ‘Why.’ We’ve got to understand our ‘Why.’

“We’ve got guys worried about their professional careers and what level of basketball they can play at. As long as they are worried about those things our team is not going to be good and their chances of being a professional player are slim and none.”

The Redhawk players need to be mature enough to comprehend that no professional league – on any continent - is going to seek guys who can’t even register in the OVC statistics and formed a team with the worst record in its conference.

The Redhawk players need to have the maturity to understand how ridiculous they appear with their gyrations and celebrations after made shots when as a team they have two wins against NCAA Division I competition and it’s Jan. 20.

But this program being filled with guys who think those things and do those things is on the adults in the room, not the kids.

Ray spoke of how his team “won over some fans” with its play Saturday, but the truth is showing its unreached potential is more infuriating than satisfactory.

As Ray noted, this program is at a crossroads. Southeast has four road games looming and is already two games out of the eighth spot, which places it in the OVC Tournament. The Redhawks desperately need to grow up and play to their ability - consistently.

“Do we take (this effort) and improve,” Ray pondered. “That, to me, is the determination. What are we going to do from this point forward with that effort that we had today?”

That’s a damn good question.

Tom Davis is the regional sports editor for Semoball.com and the Southeast Missourian.

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