Improvement on defense key for Southeast men

Friday, November 19, 2010
Southeast forward Leon Powell puts up a shot against Ouachita Baptist during an exhibition game earlier this season. (Laura Simon)

The Southeast Missouri State men's basketball team will shoot for a better defensive performance Saturday when the Redhawks continue their early season road swing.

Southeast plays its third straight contest away from home to begin the campaign with a 7:05 p.m. tipoff at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

The Redhawks are 0-2 while the Kangaroos are 2-0.

Second-year Southeast coach Dickey Nutt believes a better defensive performance might have resulted in Southeast's first win of the season.

But the Redhawks saw fourth-year Division I program Florida Gulf Coast shoot a sizzling 55.9 percent from the field during Tuesday's 89-78 victory in Fort Myers, Fla.

"When somebody shoots 56 percent on you, it bothers you," said Nutt, whose squad opened its season Saturday with a 78-56 loss at Alabama-Birmingham. "We've got to get that defensive mentality."

The Redhawks also need to improve their free-throw shooting. They made just 11 of 23 on Tuesday and are hitting less than 50 percent in their two games (18 of 37, 48.6 percent).

"We've got to have the toughness to step up and hit free throws," Nutt said. "Probably the best thing we can do is just stop talking about it."

Despite not having a win yet, Nutt emphasized that there have been bright spots for a retooled roster that features just five players who took the court last season.

The brightest spot by far has been junior forward Leon Powell, who missed all of last year with a knee injury after transferring from junior college.

Powell, the top signee from Nutt's first recruiting class last year, is averaging 18.5 points and 12 rebounds through two games while shooting 65.4 percent from the field (17 of 26).

The 6-foot-7 Powell has registered double-doubles in both games, including 26 points and 13 rebounds against Florida Gulf Coast.

"Leon has been playing outstanding, but we need to get him some help," Nutt said.

Southeast's No. 2 scorer is junior guard Nick Niemczyk, a Bell City High School product who transferred from Three Rivers Community College. Niemczyk is averaging 16 points, with a high of 19 at UAB.

While somewhat disappointed with Southeast's overall play so far, Nutt is far from discouraged because he knows it's going to take some time for the Redhawks to come together.

"We've got so many new players. ... This is a process," Nutt said. "It's a long year. It's a work in progress for us. We're just getting started."

Nutt did say he might try to get a longer look at some of Southeast's players who haven't seen much action so far.

"We might have to shake up the lineup, look at some different people," Nutt said.

UMKC should provide another tough challenge for Southeast even though the Kangaroos went just 12-18 last year, including 6-12 in the Summit League.

The Kangaroos' wins so far have been over Division II Truman State 71-59 and at Central Arkansas 73-71.

Jay Cousinard, a 6-6 senior forward, is averaging 20.5 points through two games, leading the Kangaroos in scoring both times.

Spencer Johnson, a 6-6 senior forward, is averaging 14 points and nine rebounds. He has been UMKC's top rebounder in both contests.

Cousinard also led UMKC in scoring last year with a 14-point average, while Johnson was the Kangaroos' leading rebounder with a 5.8 mark.

"I expect another tough opponent," Nutt said. "No question, any time you go on somebody's home floor, it's tough.

"We're not at the level where we can just go out and expect to win just by showing up."

After Saturday's contest, the Redhawks finally will have their first home game Monday against Grambling State.

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