Smith wastes little time aiding Redhawks men's basketball team

Thursday, January 28, 2010
Southeast Missouri State's Marland Smith drives against Williams Baptist's Alex Garmrath during the first half Saturday at the Show Me Center. (Fred Lynch)

Marland Smith said it took him awhile to make the adjustment to playing Division I college basketball.

And Smith knows his learning curve still is steep.

But Smith appears to have gotten the hang of things quite well during his freshman season at Southeast Missouri State.

Smith, a 6-foot-2, 155-pound guard, is having a strong rookie campaign and has been among the Redhawks' top performers over the past few weeks.

Entering tonight's game at Jacksonville State, Smith is tied for fourth on the team in scoring with an average of 8.8 points per game. He is averaging 11.2 points in Southeast's past nine contests, reaching double figures in six of those.

Southeast Missouri State's Marland Smith grabs the ball away from Eastern Michigan's Antonio Green during the first half of their game earlier this season at the Show Me Center. (Fred Lynch)

"I think I'm playing all right for a freshman," said the soft-spoken, polite Smith. "Getting adjusted to the speed and physical [play] took a while. Every night I'm facing somebody bigger and stronger."

Smith is shooting a respectable 34.3 percent from 3-point range and leads the squad with 34 baskets from beyond the arc.

But it's Smith's all-around play, including his willingness to work on the defensive end, that has allowed him to start 16 of the Redhawks' 19 games.

Smith, despite being one of Southeast's smallest players, is third on the team in rebounding with a 2.7 average. He ranks third in steals with 15 and fourth in assists with 27.

"Marland has done a super job. He's a guy who's really exceeding expectations," first-year Southeast coach Dickey Nutt said. "He's shooting the ball extremely well. He's so quick, he can get his own shot.

"I love his energy. He gives me so much energy and so much sense of urgency, which is very important."

Nutt, noting the 15 points Smith scored at Memphis and the 10 points he scored against Murray State -- two of Southeast's toughest opponents -- said: "Marland doesn't mind showing up in big games, which is the sign of a really good player. He's really come on and turned into one of our best players."

Smith, from Little Rock, Ark., was a two-time all-state selection at Hall High School. He helped Hall win a state title as a junior before the team finished as runner-up his senior season to Jacksonville, which was led by current Southeast freshman LaQuentin Miles.

Smith said he chose Southeast "basically because of coach Nutt. He came to my games in high school. I didn't even know he was getting the job here."

Smith was one of Nutt's first signees after he was hired at Southeast in March. Neither side has been disappointed.

"I am so proud Marland is in our program," Nutt said. "He comes from a great family. He's a super individual and a joy to coach. He's never had a bad day.

"I think Marland is going to rewrite a lot of the records here."

Smith knows he has a long way to go before that happens. Perhaps his biggest deficiency right now is his lack of strength.

"I need to get in the weight room and get bigger and stronger," said the rail-thin Smith, who said he actually has gained about five pounds since coming to Southeast.

Although Smith expected to play a role for the rebuilding Redhawks, he is surprised about being a fixture in the starting lineup.

"I wasn't expecting to start but I was expecting to play," he said. "With 11 new players, I had a chance. We're all basically new, learning a new system."

Smith has proved to be a fast study.

Two road games

The Redhawks (6-13, 3-6) are eighth in the 10-team Ohio Valley Conference entering a two-game road swing that has them facing Jacksonville State tonight and Tennessee Tech on Saturday.

JSU (8-11, 4-5) and Tech (10-10, 4-5) are tied for sixth, just one game ahead of Southeast. All three squads are halfway through their 18-game OVC schedules. The top eight finishers make the OVC tournament.

Southeast split against the two teams early this month in Cape Girardeau, losing to Tech 82-73 on Jan. 2 and beating JSU 78-66 on Jan. 4.

The Redhawks defeated JSU despite a 37-point outburst by junior college transfer wing Trenton Marshall that is the highest scoring total by an OVC player this season. Marshall is the league's top scorer with an 18.5 average.

"It's going to be a tough trip, but these are winnable games for us," Nutt said.

Southeast again will be without junior forward Cameron Butler this week.

Butler, Southeast's No. 3 scorer and No. 2 rebounder overall, but its top scorer in OVC play, has missed the past four contests with a foot injury.

"He's just got a painful injury," Nutt said. "We're shooting for next week."

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