Redhawks roll into OVC play
Friday, December 28, 2012
The Southeast Missouri State men's basketball team has done plenty to please fourth-year coach Dickey Nutt so far this season.
Southeast, at 8-6, has clinched its first nonconference winning record since the 2003-04 season and also has its most nonconference victories since the 2000-01 squad went 10-4 in nonleague play.
"We're real proud of that. I feel like we're making progress," Nutt said. "I think we've done some good things so far but we've got a lot of improvement to make."
While what the Redhawks have accomplished to date is noteworthy, they begin the most important part of their season Saturday when Tennessee-Martin visits the Show Me Center for a noon Ohio Valley Conference opener.
"The conference season is what it's all about," said Nutt, whose squad will enter their OVC schedule with a winning record and a two-game winning streak for the first time during his tenure. "It's a brand new season for us. We look forward to it."
Southeast hopes to continue its upward surge after last year's breakthrough season that saw the Redhawks go 15-16 for their most victories since the 2004-05 team also won 15 games.
The Redhawks went 9-7 in league play, their fourth-place OVC tie marking their highest conference finish since the 1999-2000 NCAA tournament squad earned a share of the regular-season title.
Most people believe the Redhawks will keep moving forward as they were picked to finish second in the OVC West Division, behind only powerhouse Murray State.
"We think we can take another step forward," said Nutt, who originally inherited a program saddled with NCAA probation and coming off a 3-27 campaign that featured a winless OVC season. "I feel like we've got the talent to contend."
Saturday the Redhawks will contend with a UTM squad that is 3-9 and is riding a four-game losing streak.
The Skyhawks have finished in the OVC basement two of the past three years. They went 4-27 overall and 0-16 in league play last season.
UTM has beaten just one Division I team this year, Kennesaw State. Only two of its nine defeats have been closer than 13 points.
But where some people might see a pushover Nutt sees a dangerous opponent, one that returned its top two scorers and lost by just two points to Southeast a year ago in Martin, Tenn.
"You can throw the records out the window," said Nutt, whose squad beat the Skyhawks by 30 points in Cape Girardeau last season. "You can't take anybody for granted. You can't look past anybody. I think our players know that."
Myles Taylor, UTM's 6-foot-7, 250-pound sophomore forward, ranks sixth in the OVC in scoring and rebounding with averages of 16.4 points and 7.1 boards per game.
Taylor was the 2011-12 OVC freshman of the year after averaging 13.7 points and 5.2 rebounds.
Mike Liabo, a 6-6 junior wing, is averaging 14 points. He leads UTM with 28 3-pointers and is shooting 34.6 percent from beyond the arc.
Liabo paced the Skyhawks last year with a 15.2 scoring average.
"Taylor is really a good inside player and Liabo has hurt us every year," Nutt said.
Saturday's game marks the first of three straight OVC home dates for Southeast.
The Redhawks host Austin Peay Thursday before their Jan. 5 showdown with Murray State that will be nationally televised on ESPNU.