Road-weary Southeast Missouri State men's basketball team to tangle with Mizzou

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Southeast men's basketball team looks for first-ever victory against ranked Mizzou

Southeast Missouri State men's basketball coach Dickey Nutt said the Redhawks have "been around the world and back."

Nutt was only half-kidding.

The Redhawks have been living out of suitcases for virtually the entire season -- but they can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Southeast is on the final leg of a stretch that has the Redhawks playing seven of eight games away from Cape Girardeau.

The Redhawks (6-4) finish their grueling road swing today at the University of Missouri (6-1), ranked 11th and 12th in the two major national polls. The tipoff at Mizzou Arena in Columbia, Mo., is set for 7 p.m. and the game will be televised by Fox Sports Midwest.

"It's going to be a big challenge for us but I know the guys are excited about playing a team like Missouri," Nutt said. "They're one of the top programs in the country every year."

The Redhawks will have logged a total of 3,795 bus miles by the time they return from Columbia early Wednesday morning. Lawrence, Kan., Chattanooga, Tenn., Chicago and New Orleans have been among the destinations.

"We've been on the road so much. It's really been a tough stretch for us but I think it's going to make us a better basketball team," said Nutt, whose squad has only three home games among its first 11 contests. "I think it's going to make us tougher."

Nutt, in his fourth season at Southeast, considers it a credit to the Redhawks' resolve that they posted their first winning November since he took over a struggling program.

The Redhawks won two road games last week, at New Orleans and Southeastern Louisiana, and they currently are riding their second three-game winning streak of the season.

"I'm really proud of the guys, the way they've handled everything so far," Nutt said. "It takes a lot of toughness to win on the road. I think we're really growing as a team."

Southeast's offense has been strong lately after hitting a lull, but the Redhawks' calling card all season has been their rejuvenated defense.

"We've been hanging our hat on defense," Nutt said.

The Redhawks struggled defensively last year, but so far this season they are allowing opponents to shoot just 34.6 percent from the field, including 24.8 percent from 3-point range.

Both figures lead the Ohio Valley Conference while ranking fifth and 15th in the nation, respectively.

No team has shot as well as 40 percent from the field against Southeast, but that streak will be challenged tonight. MU is averaging 75.3 points per game, although the Tigers are shooting just 43.9 percent.

The Tigers have started strong -- their lone loss was to fifth-ranked Louisville -- despite having the services of just one player who took the court for last season's 30-5 team.

Junior Phil Pressey, that lone returning performer, is among the nation's premier point guards after leading the Big 12 Conference in assists and steals last year.

Pressey, an All-American candidate, is averaging 13.6 points and 6.3 assists.

Senior forward Laurence Bowers, who missed last season with a torn ACL, has returned to pre-injury form. He is averaging a team-high 15.4 points while shooting 59.7 percent.

MU has been bolstered by a bevy of transfers from other Division I programs, including junior guard Earnest Ross from Auburn (11.3 ppg) and 6-foot-9, 255-pound senior forward Alex Oriahki from Connecticut (10.9 ppg, 8.3 rpg).

The Tigers were expecting another big season from senior guard Michael Dixon, last year's sixth man of the year in the Big 12, but he was suspended for the first six games of the season before announcing his intention to transfer last week

"They're a very talented team, as always," Nutt said. "Pressey is a tremendous point guard. Bowers is very good, and they've added a lot of really good players."

The Redhawks also played at MU last year in the first meeting between the squads since the 1997-98 season.

Southeast is 0-6 all-time against the Tigers, but the Redhawks gave MU a battle last year. The Tigers needed to score the final six points of the opening half just to lead 38-36 at the break. MU pulled away for an 83-68 season-opening victory.

"We played well there last year, and we'll need to play well again to have a chance," Nutt said.

Junior forward Tyler Stone led the Redhawks with 18 points against his former squad. Stone scored 22 points in limited action as an MU freshman in 2009-10 before transferring to Southeast.

Sophomore forward Nino Johnson had an impressive collegiate debut with 11 points and a team-high seven rebounds in last year's matchup, although Johnson went on to see limited action the rest of the season.

Stone and Johnson are off to strong starts this year.

Stone is averaging a team-high 15.8 points and 9.3 rebounds. Johnson is averaging 11.3 points and team-best 9.8 rebounds while recording an Ohio Valley Conference-leading 26 blocks.

Johnson and Stone are second and third, respectively, in the OVC in rebounding. They rank among the top 50 nationally.

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