Southeast Missouri State men's basketball team improves record, boost optimism in Nutt's second year

Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Southeast coach Dickey Nutt talks with Leon Powell and Lucas Nutt during a game this season. The Redhawks compiled a 10-22 record and finished tied for seventh in the Ohio Valley Conference in Nutt's second season. (Laura Simon)

Southeast Missouri State men's basketball coach Dickey Nutt saw his second season end with a 10-22 record, but he believes the Redhawks made significant progress under tough circumstances.

He also believes the future is bright for the program.

"No way are we satisfied with 10 wins," said Nutt, whose team was shorthanded all season and down to only eight players for the final half of the year. "But with all we went through, to overcome the things we had to overcome, I do feel like we made progress. I feel like we made some huge growing steps with our program."

The Redhawks bettered their win total by three and their Ohio Valley Conference finish by two spots from Nutt's first year, when he inherited a floundering program coming off a 3-27 season and saddled with NCAA probation.

Southeast compiled a 6-12 OVC record, good for a seventh-place tie in the 10-team conference. The Redhawks won just three league games last season.

Southeast Missouri State forward Leon Powell was the OVC newcomer of the week five times during his junior season. Powell averaged 14.1 points and 7.7 rebounds a game. (Laura Simon)

Notable accomplishments for the Redhawks included making the OVC tournament for the first time since 2006-07, winning an OVC tournament game for the first time since 2004-05 and posting a rare victory over conference regular-season champion Murray State.

The Redhawks, after starting 0-10, played at nearly a .500 clip (10-12) the rest of the way.

"Looking at the last half of the season, from about January on, we made some strides," Nutt said. "To not only get into the tournament but win a game, I feel like we can build on that.

"We accomplished some things that had not been done here for a while. I was proud of the way our guys competed all year, the effort they gave. With all the things that happened to us, they never let go of the rope."

On the down side, Southeast ranked among the nation's worst free-throw shooting squads, making just 62 percent.

"That was a problem all year," Nutt said. "We probably would have won some more games if we had shot better from the free-throw line."

Nutt expects to field a considerably improved team next year as Southeast brings back most of its top players, gets several key players eligible and adds significant recruits.

Southeast had just two seniors, guard Anthony Allison and forward Cameron Butler.

Allison was the Redhawks' third-leading scorer at 11.9 points per game. Butler, despite battling painful foot problems all year, was Southeast's No. 2 rebounder. He averaged 5.6 points and 5.9 boards.

"They both brought a lot of toughness to our team. We'll miss them," Nutt said.

Junior forward Leon Powell and redshirt freshman point guard Lucas Nutt had especially strong seasons as underclassmen.

Powell, second-team all-OVC, ranked among the league leaders in scoring (14.1), rebounding (7.7) and blocks (50). He led the nation in field-goal shooting much of the year and currently ranks second at 63 percent.

"Leon had a really fine year, an all-conference year," coach Nutt said. "We look for even better things next year."

Lucas Nutt, the coach's son, was expected to back up touted junior college transfer Marcus Brister but assumed the starting role early in the season and never let go.

Nutt, among the OVC's top freshmen, averaged 10 points while ranking among the conference leaders in 3-point shooting (40.5 percent), free-throw shooting (82.1 percent) assists (112) and assist-to-turnover ratio.

"Lucas was probably a few votes from being [OVC] freshman of the year," coach Nutt said. "He was one of our most improved players from last year."

Sophomore guard Marland Smith was inconsistent with his shooting but still finished as Southeast's No. 2 scorer with a 12-point average, including several huge performances.

Smith also was the Redhawks' No. 3 rebounder (4.0) while ranking second in steals (29) and third in assists (54).

"Marland was up and down all year but he had some big games," Nutt said.

Brister did not live up to expectations overall but came on strong over the final weeks. He averaged 5.2 points and 3.8 rebounds while leading in steals (30) and ranking second in assists (95).

"Marcus really came on the last half of the season. He was one of the bigger, stronger guards in the OVC," Nutt said.

Southeast's other touted juco transfer, 7-foot center Zach House, fell far short of expectations. He never got going and averaged just 11.7 minutes.

But House, who blocked 25 shots in his limited playing time, showed some flashes late in the season. The same goes for raw but athletic 6-9 juco transfer forward Waylon Jones, who has two years of eligibility left.

"Zach and Waylon made some good strides," Nutt said. "I think Zach can be a factor for us next year."

Expected to be a big factor is juco transfer guard Nick Niemczyk, a Bell City product who averaged 13.4 points in five games before missing the rest of the season with knee problems.

Niemczyk, who was coming off major knee surgery before arriving at Southeast, shot 43.3 percent from 3-point range. He is expected to be healthy next year.

"Nick showed what kind of player he can be," Nutt said. "He's very consistent."

The status of juco transfer forward Nathan Schulte is more muddled. Schulte averaged 7.7 points and 5.5 rebounds in 10 games before missing the rest of the season with a blood clot that caused serious medical issues.

"We're not sure what the future holds for Nathan," Nutt said. "They're still doing medical tests."

Southeast will be counting heavily on two transfers from Division I programs, forwards Tyler Stone (Missouri) and Michael Porter (Missouri State), who will be sophomores in eligibility.

Stone and Porter, a Sikeston, Mo., native, were both impressive practicing with the Redhawks while sitting out the season under NCAA transfer rules.

"We had a chance to see them practice. ... We feel like they'll be impact players," Nutt said.

Another transfer who will add depth in the backcourt is Nutt's oldest son Logan, a walk-on point guard who came to Southeast from Mississippi.

Logan Nutt, who also practiced with the Redhawks, has one year of eligibility left.

"Logan brings us that toughness, that experience. He's a coach on the floor," his father said.

Coach Nutt is also excited about Southeast's two early high school signees, power forward Nino Johnson and shooting guard Telvin Wilkerson. Both are from Memphis, Tenn.

The 6-8, 225-pound Johnson in particular could be an immediate factor.

"We feel like both of them will be impacts to our team," Nutt said.

Nutt said the Redhawks are looking to sign more players for next season.

"We have our eyes on a couple. We feel like we have to add to our backcourt a little more," said Nutt, who added that Southeast also might be in the market for another transfer or two.

Southeast's beefed-up 2011-12 roster, by far the most talented since Nutt took over, has him excited.

"I think we have a good group, a lot of high character guys. Hopefully we can make another jump next year. That's what's expected," Nutt said. "I really do think our future is bright."

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