Redhawks unexpectedly end losing streak at Northern Illinois

Monday, November 23, 2009

I figured the Southeast Missouri State men's basketball team would end the nation's longest losing streak eventually.

But after seeing the Redhawks struggle during decisive losses to Saint Louis and Arkansas State, I didn't expect that to happen Sunday as they visited a solid Mid-American Conference squad.

Northern Illinois is considered a legitimate MAC contender -- the Huskies were picked second in the MAC West Division -- which didn't appear to bode well for Southeast.

Instead, the Redhawks squeezed out an improbable 70-64 overtime victory to end the program's 21-game losing streak that included 19 straight defeats to finish last season.

Southeast also handed Dickey Nutt his first win as the Redhawks' coach.

I didn't make the trip to DeKalb, Ill., but I spoke with Nutt following the game. Anybody who knows the enthusiastic, energetic Nutt knows how excited he was.

Nutt couldn't stop talking about how proud he was of his players and how happy he was for them, especially the four returning players who had to endure last year's debacle.

Kudos to Nutt and the Redhawks.

And who knows, maybe this club will end up surprising its fans after all.

Several significant events regarding Ohio Valley Conference football took place over the past week.

Eastern Illinois wrapped up the OVC title and earned the league's automatic Division I-AA playoff berth despite Thursday's 21-10 upset loss to visiting Tennessee State in a game that was nationally televised by ESPNU.

The Panthers, 6-2 in conference play and 8-3 overall, got into the postseason by virtue of Eastern Kentucky's 34-26 loss at Jacksonville State on Saturday.

An Eastern Kentucky victory would have tied the Colonels for the OVC title and given them the league's playoff spot because they beat Eastern Illinois.

Instead, Eastern Kentucky not only missed the postseason, but saw two impressive streaks end.

The Colonels finished 5-6 to halt the nation's longest streak of winning seasons (31) and seasons without a losing record (35).

Meanwhile, Jacksonville State (8-3, 6-1) wound up with the OVC's best league record but knew from the start it wouldn't be eligible for the title because of NCAA Academic Progress Rate sanctions that will also keep the Gamecocks out of the playoffs.

There also were two coaching casualties around the OVC.

First Murray State's Matt Griffin was fired exactly one week ago and did not coach the Racers' final game Saturday at Tennessee Tech. He had one year left on a five-year contract.

Then Tennessee State's James Webster resigned under pressure following Thursday's upset of Eastern Illinois that completed his fifth season. That came after a recent media report in Nashville, Tenn., said Webster would be fired, which apparently would have happened if he didn't resign.

As for Southeast Missouri State coach Tony Samuel, whose Redhawks finished 2-9 with Saturday's 42-24 loss to top-ranked SIU, there has been considerable talk regarding whether the university will bring him back for a fifth season in 2010.

Sources tell me that Samuel, in the fourth year of a five-year deal, will be retained. Southeast is expected to make an official announcement soon.

Meanwhile, sources also tell me that offensive coordinator Vincent White -- who has been with Samuel during his entire tenure at Southeast -- won't be back. White is a classy guy and, if his time in Cape Girardeau is up, I wish him all the best.

I don't know if there will be other changes made within Samuel's staff.

It was a 2-9 football season, but Southeast certainly played well toward the end, first with the 49-13 rout of Murray State to end the OVC schedule and then with Saturday's strong showing.

While SIU was never in serious danger of losing, the Redhawks made the Salukis sweat most of the way with an all-around solid performance.

Southeast's offense came alive the final two games of the season. If Southeast can carry that into next year, I think there is a realistic possibility for a solid season because the 2009 Redhawks really weren't that far off from posting several more wins.

Former Southeast football assistant coach Jay Thomas has been fired after six seasons as coach at Division I-AA Nicholls (La.) State.

Thomas had a 27-35 record with the Colonels, who went 6-14 the past two seasons. They were 3-8 this year.

Thomas coached Southeast's defensive line from 1993 through 1998.

What a joke that neither Chris Carpenter nor Adam Wainwright won the National League Cy Young Award.

Marty Mishow is a sports writer for the Southeast Missourian.

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