By MARTY MISHOW ~ Southeast Missourian
The Southeast Missouri State men's basketball team probably would be advised to take Hannibal-LaGrange seriously.
Especially with the way the Redhawks have struggled lately.
Hannibal-LaGrange, an NAIA program from Hannibal, Mo., gave Southeast a scare last year before the host Redhawks won 82-72.
The Trojans led for the final 17-plus minutes of the first half and were ahead 36-35 at the break. They still were within eight points with less than two minutes left.
Southeast (3-4) and Hannibal-LaGrange (1-5) meet again today in a 7 p.m. tipoff at the Show Me Center. The Trojans are using the contest as an exhibition.
"You have to respect every team you play," said Southeast coach Dickey Nutt, whose squad is mired in a three-game losing streak. "We're supposed to win these games. They're coming in here without a lot of pressure and they can play loose. It's their Super Bowl.
"But right now we're not concerned about who we play. We're more concerned about us. We've got to fix a lot of things."
The Redhawks had no trouble with the first NAIA opponent they played this year, routing Lyon College from Arkansas 89-61 in their season opener.
Southeast also had no problem with Hannibal-LaGrange in the first meeting between the programs, romping 101-52 during the 2010-11 season.
Last year was a different story. The hot-shooting Trojans hit 55.1 percent from the field, including 62.5 percent from 3-point range (10 of 16).
Arii Meuel was the Trojans' big gun with 29 points. He hit all seven of his 3-pointers and was 10 of 12 from the field overall.
Meuel, a 6-foot-4 sophomore guard, again will be somebody Southeast has to contend with. He leads the Trojans, whose tallest player is 6-6, with a 16.5 scoring average. He is shooting 33 percent from beyond the arc.
Hannibal-LaGrange, after going 12-18 last year -- its most wins since the 2008-09 squad won 13 games -- is off to a slow start. The Trojans finally notched their first win Saturday, beating Central Bible College 87-67.
Southeast got off to a strong start, winning three of its first four contests, but has struggled offensively during its three-game losing streak.
The Redhawks fell 56-45 Saturday at Illinois-Chicago, scoring their fewest points in a game since the 2009-10 season.
"We're in a rut right now. But there are a lot of games left. It's not the end of the world," Nutt said. "We've got to make sure [the players] stay up mentally. This team needs a shot of something that feels good for them. Hopefully we'll have something good happen."
Today's game represents a break from a stretch that has Southeast playing seven of eight contests away from Cape Girardeau.
After today, Southeast concludes the grueling swing with three road games: at New Orleans on Thursday, at Southeastern Louisiana on Saturday and at Missouri on Dec. 4.
"We've been away a lot. It's hard to play on the road," Nutt said. "But it makes you tougher. To contend for a conference championship, you've got to learn to win on the road."
* Senior guard Marland Smith needs three more 3-point baskets to reach 200 in his Southeast career. Smith's 197 3-pointers rank third on Southeast's all-time list, trailing Derek Winans (219, 2001 through 2005) and Curtis Shelton (215, 1990 through 1994) in program history.