Taller Southeast Missouri State men's basketball team ready to build on last year's success

Wednesday, October 12, 2011
Marland Smith averaged 12 points a game for Southeast Missouri State last season. (Missourian file)

The Southeast Missouri State men's basketball team made strides during coach Dickey Nutt's second season.

Nutt expects even more progress in year three of his rebuilding project, thanks to what he believes is his most talented roster since he took over the floundering program.

"We're in position to turn the corner," Nutt said Tuesday when the Redhawks held their media day.

Southeast went 10-22 overall last year despite being shorthanded all season and down to eight players for the final half of the campaign.

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 program coming off a 3-27 season and saddled with NCAA probation.

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

Southeast made the OVC tournament for the first time since 2006-07 and won an OVC tournament game for the first time since 2004-05.

"I felt like we made strides with our program," Nutt said.

Nutt's optimism for this season, which starts Nov. 11 at Missouri, is based on the fact Southeast brought back most of its top players, got several key players eligible and added significant recruits.

"The No. 1 thing we have that we didn't have last year is depth," said Nutt, whose squad begins practice Friday. "Just having a full roster will make us a better basketball team."

Senior forward Leon Powell and sophomore point guard Lucas Nutt are coming off especially strong seasons.

Powell, who earned 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 at 63 percent.

Lucas Nutt, the coach's son who was 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.

"Leon and Lucas had really good years," coach Nutt said.

Junior guard Marland Smith was Southeast's No. 2 scorer with a 12-point average.

Smith also was the Redhawks' No. 3 rebounder (4.0), while ranking second in steals (29) and third in assists (54). He already is among Southeast's career leaders in 3-pointers made (eighth, 125) and attempted (fifth, 392).

Senior point guard Marcus Brister, probably Southeast's best defender, came on strong over the final weeks of his rookie season with the Redhawks. He averaged 5.2 points and 3.8 rebounds while leading the team in steals (30) and ranking second in assists (95).

Zach House, a 7-foot senior center, received limited playing time during his first Southeast season. House showed some flashes late in the season. He finished with 25 blocks.

Waylon Jones, a raw but athletic 6-9 junior forward who was a juco transfer last year, also received limited minutes but showed flashes.

Nutt believes both House and Jones can be bigger factors this season.

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

Niemczyk, who shot 43.3 percent from 3-point range after transferring from junior college, did not lose a year of eligibility because he received a medical redshirt.

"We're excited to have Nick back," coach Nutt said. "He is healthy and ready to go. He's a phenomenal shooter."

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

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

"We feel like they'll be impact players," Nutt said. "Michael plays with an incredible passion and has a motor that won't quit. Tyler might be the most athletic big guy we have."

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

Coach Nutt also is excited about his three players who are new to the program -- one a junior college transfer and the other two freshmen.

Junior guard Corey Wilford was a juco All-American at Connors State in Oklahoma last year.

"Corey can do a lot of different things," coach Nutt said.

Forward Nino Johnson and guard Telvin Wilkerson, freshmen from Memphis, Tenn., will battle for early playing time. The 6-8, 220-pound Johnson, who was recruited by some major programs, could be an immediate factor.

"We're really excited about our freshmen," coach Nutt said. "Telvin can really defend. Nino has that big Division I body. If we had to start tonight, he would probably be a starter."

The Redhawks, who lacked size last season, now have plenty of it. Six players are 6-6 or taller, including four who stand at least 6-8.

"I feel like we've got more talent, more depth," coach Nutt said. "I feel good about our team."

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