Southeast Missouri State men's basketball team weathers OVC opener

Sunday, December 30, 2012
Southeast Missouri State’s Tyler Stone is fouled by Tennessee-Martin’s Myles Taylor in the second half Saturday at the Show Me Center. Southeast won 65-60. (Laura Simon)

The Southeast Missouri State men's basketball team breathed a collective sigh of relief Saturday.

A huge sigh of relief.

The Redhawks narrowly avoided what would have been a shocking start to Ohio Valley Conference play, slipping past visiting Tennessee-Martin 65-60.

An announced Show Me Center crowd of 1,752 for the noon tipoff saw the Redhawks improve to 9-6 with their third three-game winning streak of the season.

"Whew. It's ugly but we'll take it," junior forward Tyler Stone said. "Coach always says you can never underestimate the feeling of winning."

Southeast Missouri State’s Nino Johnson drives past Tennessee-Martin’s Jeremy Washington during the first half Saturday at the Show Me Center. Southeast won 65-60.

UTM (3-10), which went winless in OVC play last year and is predicted to finish in the cellar again this season, took the fight to Southeast right from the start.

The Skyhawks scored the game's first nine points and built a 21-6 lead midway through the opening half.

UTM still led 30-27 at the break and, even after Southeast rallied to go ahead, the Skyhawks forged a 56-56 tie with a little more than four minutes remaining.

"We knew, start of conference, people would bring their best game," Stone said. "They came out with more energy than we did."

Southeast finally avoided a major upset by outscoring UTM 9-4 over the final 4 minutes, 7 seconds.

Southeast Missouri State's Tyler Stone takes a free throw against UT Martin in the first half Saturday, Dec. 29, 2012 at the Show Me Center. Southeast won 65-60. (Laura Simon)

"Welcome to conference basketball. ... a dogfight every night," Southeast coach Dickey Nutt said. "I thought we came out thinking it was going to be a 30-point win. I do credit Tennessee-Martin. I thought they were very good today.

"I was really proud of the way the guys hung in. This was a grind game. At the end of the day it's a win. We'll take it all day long. We made just enough plays at the end."

Stone, having a big season, made most of Southeast's key offensive plays down the stretch. He scored seven straight points after UTM had rallied for the 56-56 deadlock.

"I thought Tyler took over at the end," Nutt said.

Stone banked in a short shot with 4:07 remaining, putting Southeast up for good at 58-56.

Southeast Missouri State’s Nino Johnson dives for a loose ball as Tennessee-Martin’s Tonias Dowdell gains control in Saturday’s contest.

After a defensive stop, Stone's 17-foot jumper with 3:21 left made it 60-56. His three-point play at the 2:23 mark gave the Redhawks a 63-58 advantage. It was their biggest lead of the day.

"I was just trying to execute," Stone said. "Luke [junior point guard Lucas Nutt] had it in his mind to feed me the ball. I give all credit to him."

Stone scored 15 of his game-high 23 points in the second half. He has reached double figures in 14 consecutive games, missing out only during the season opener at Kansas. Stone, who hit 9 of 15 field goals, also grabbed nine rebounds.

The Redhawks still weren't home free following Stone's late outburst, but their defense shut down UTM after the Skyhawks pulled within 63-60.

Sophomore forward Nino Johnson and Nutt both made 1 of 2 free throws in the last 1:07 for the final margin.

Southeast Missouri State's tyler Stone is fouled by UT Martin's Myles Taylor in the second half Saturday, Dec. 29, 2012 at the Show Me Center. Southeast won 65-60. (Laura Simon)

"I think defense held us up pretty well at the end," Johnson said. "They was getting all type of easy shots in the first half."

Johnson had 15 points and 14 rebounds for his team-leading sixth double-double of the season. He added two blocked shots and ranks among the top 20 nationally in that category.

"Defensively Nino was really a beast," Dickey Nutt said.

Lucas Nutt continued his strong play running the offense. He had eight points, six assists and no turnovers while matching Stone by playing a game-high 37 minutes.

Nutt has 21 assists and one turnover during Southeast's three-game winning streak. The Redhawks have committed a season-low seven turnovers in each of the three contests.

"I thought he was the most consistent guy on the floor," Dickey Nutt said.

Johnson, half-kiddingly, attributed Southeast's sluggish play to the weather and the holidays.

"I blame it on the snow. Christmas time, we had a couple of days off, a couple of guys couldn't get back [in time for practice]," said a smiling Johnson. "It was just a mental thing -- seriously."

Stone said the day was typified by the fact he and Nutt combined to miss nine free throws against UTM. The two players had been among the OVC's top free-throw shooters, combining to miss just nine foul shots all season heading into Saturday's game.

Stone was 5 of 11 from the line and Nutt 4 of 7, but Stone hit all three of his second-half free throws while Nutt was 3 of 4. . Southeast made just 18 of 36 from the stripe overall.

"We knew it was a lid on the rim when Luke missed his free throws. That never happens," said a laughing Stone about Nutt, who entered the day having missed three free throws all year.

Southeast shot 41.5 percent from the field, heating up to 50 percent in the second half. The Redhawks were 3 of 14 from 3-point range and were outrebounded 46-40.

UTM shot just 35.4 percent from the field after hitting six of its first nine field goals. The Skyhawks made 3 of 13 from beyond the arc.

"Nothing we did went good today -- our free-throw shooting, our field-goal shooting, our 3-point shooting," Dickey Nutt said. "We were lucky our defense held us to keep us close."

Saturday's game marked the first of three straight OVC home dates for Southeast.

The Redhawks host Austin Peay on Thursday before a Jan. 5 showdown with Murray State that will be nationally televised on ESPNU.

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