The Southeast Missouri State men's basketball team keeps playing strong defense.
But the Redhawks' offensive funk continued Saturday as Southeast suffered its third straight loss, 56-45 at Illinois-Chicago.
Southeast, which fell to 3-4, scored its fewest points in a game since the 2009-10 season -- coach Dickey Nutt's first with the Redhawks.
"We played pretty well offensively our first few games but right now we're having a hard time scoring," said Nutt, whose squad is in the middle of a stretch that has it playing seven of eight games away from Cape Girardeau. "People are taking the inside away from us and putting pressure on our guards. You have to step up and make shots. We haven't been able to do that the last three games.
"Right now we're lacking confidence. We're not getting any bounces, but you have to make your own breaks."
Southeast shot 30.4 percent from the field and made 5 of 20 3-pointers (25 percent).
The Redhawks held the Flames to 28.8-percent shooting, including 6 of 24 3-pointers (25 percent).
The Redhawks entered the game leading the Ohio Valley Conference in field-goal percentage defense at 35.0. They lowered that to 34.1 Saturday.
"Defensively we're playing well. You hold a team to under 30 percent on their floor, you think you'll have a good chance to win," Nutt said. "The bottom line is mental toughness right now. You're playing teams that are as good as we are. They have as good an athletes. We just have to be mentally tougher."
UIC, which won just eight games last year, is off to a 4-1 start.
"They're playing well. I give their defense credit," Nutt said.
Southeast fell behind 7-3 early but used a 13-2 run to grab a 16-9 lead as senior guard Corey Wilford hit three 3-pointers.
The Flames came right back with nine straight points to go ahead 18-16. They later led 26-19 and carried a 28-25 advantage into the break.
UIC scored the first three points of the second half to lead 31-25. A 7-0 Southeast run put the Redhawks back on top 32-31.
The squads then proceeded to exchange the lead five times before UIC broke a 39-39 tie on a basket with seven minutes left. The Flames never trailed again.
UIC opened up a 46-39 advantage and Southeast got no closer than five points the rest of the way. The Flames pulled away by making 8 of 8 free throws in the final three minutes.
"It's just disappointing," Nutt said. "You go on the road, you have to hit some shots."
Wilford, making his first start of the season and second of his two-year Southeast career, led the Redhawks with 15 points. He had 11 first-half points.
Wilford earned the starting assignment after scoring 57 points during Southeast's three games at the CBE Classic in Chatanooga, Tenn.
"He's playing good. He gives us some energy," Nutt said. "But in the second half he didn't get many looks. They shut him down."
Wilford missed all three of his 3-point attempts in the final period after making 3 of 4 in the opening half. He shot 2 of 9 in the second half and finished 5 of 16.
Junior forward Tyler Stone scored 14 points for the Redhawks but shot just 6 of 19.
Sophomore forward Nino Johnson added six points, 10 rebounds and three blocks.
Senior center Josh Crittle led the Flames with a career-high 17 points and 12 rebounds.
UIC outrebounded Southeast 50-40, including 15-5 on the offensive glass. None of the Redhawks' starters had an offensive rebound.
The Flames had a 13-2 advantage in second-chance points and an 18-0 bulge in points off turnovers. Southeast had only 10 turnovers but UIC committed just five.
"We have to do a better job of rebounding and getting loose balls. There are a lot of things we need to work on but nothing that can't be fixed," Nutt said. "We're in a rut right now. But there are a lot of games left. It's not the end of the world."
Southeast breaks up its road stretch Monday with a 7 p.m. home game against NAIA Hannibal-LaGrange.
The Redhawks then venture out for three more in a row, at New Orleans Thursday, Southeastern Louisiana Dec. 1 and Missouri Dec. 4.
"We've just got to go back to square one and try to get better," Nutt said.