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Defending OVC champ seeks first conference victory
Southeast men visit struggling Tennessee-Martin tonight
The Tennessee-Martin men's basketball team continues to struggle just one year after winning the program's first Ohio Valley Conference regular-season title.
Southeast Missouri State hopes to keep the Skyhawks down in the dumps tonight when the squads square off at 7 p.m. in Martin, Tenn.
UTM went 22-10 last year, led by All-American guard Lester Hudson.
But Hudson, the nation's No. 2 scorer, moved on to the NBA and the Skyhawks also lost their coach as Bret Campbell was dismissed in a controversial move that centered around summer basketball camps.
The Skyhawks have not recovered. They are 3-19 overall and a last-place 0-12 in the OVC. Their lone win over a Division I program came against future OVC member Southern Illinois-Edwardsville.
Of course, Southeast is not exactly bursting with momentum right now.
First-year coach Dickey Nutt criticized the Redhawks' collective effort following Saturday's 75-49 home loss to Eastern Illinois that marked Southeast's seventh defeat in its past nine games.
Southeast (7-16, 3-9) remained eighth in the 10-team OVC. The top eight finishers qualify for the conference tournament.
"I hope our team understands that every team we play is a giant," Nutt said. "If we don't play with high intensity and high energy, we'll be beaten."
Despite UTM's lowly status, Nutt said the Skyhawks have no reason to fear Southeast, which is just one year removed from its own winless conference season.
"They think they're just as good as we are. I'm sure they're licking their chops," Nutt said. "We've got to make sure we show up and play, and play for 40 minutes."
One bright spot for Southeast on Saturday was the return of junior forward Cameron Butler, who had missed the previous seven games with a foot injury.
Butler scored nine points, grabbed four rebounds and blocked three shots in 26 minutes.
"It felt good to be back out there," Butler said. "I knew I could have been helping my team [during the time he was sidelined]."
Southeast already owns a win over UTM, rolling past the Skyhawks 77-63 on Jan. 21 at the Show Me Center. It was the Redhawks' most lopsided OVC victory of the season.
The Skyhawks have capable offensive weapons, led by junior guard Marquis Weddle. The former OVC freshman of the year is among the league's top scorers with a 17-point average. Junior forward Benzor Simmons averages 14 points.
Following tonight's game, Southeast plays four of its last five conference contests at home beginning Thursday when third-place Eastern Kentucky comes to town.