Redhawks showed fight in losing Round 1 to Racers

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Southeast Missouri State men's basketball team is off to its best start under fourth-year coach Dickey Nutt, who has done an impressive job of reviving a dormant program.

It will be a surprise to many if the Redhawks don't finish at least second in the Ohio Valley Conference West Division, which is where they were picked before the season.

But Murray State, an experienced, senior-dominated squad, showed the Redhawks on Saturday that they still rule the OVC until one of the league's other 11 teams proves otherwise.

The three-time defending OVC champion and preseason West Division favorite Racers came to Cape Girardeau and withstood a strong challenge from Southeast to hand the Redhawks their first OVC loss 74-66.

An announced season-high Show Me Center crowd of 4,915, along with a national television audience watching on ESPNU, saw the Redhawks lead the entire first half before the Racers rallied to snap Southeast's season-high four-game winning streak.

While the loss was no doubt disappointing for the Redhawks and their fans, it doesn't change the fact Southeast (10-7, 2-1) still looks headed for a strong season and has a solid chance to finish among the OVC's elite teams.

Southeast will get at least one more crack at the Racers, March 2 in Murray, Ky., during the regular-season finale when the OVC West Division title possibly could be at stake. The squads also could hook up in the conference tournament.

In the meantime, Southeast will try to start another winning streak. It won't be easy.

The Redhawks hit the road to play the predicted top two teams in the OVC East Division -- first-year league member Belmont on Thursday night and Tennessee State on Saturday night. Both games are in Nashville, Tenn.

Belmont and Tennessee State both are undefeated in league play, so the Redhawks certainly will face two rugged challenges.

I know these are tough financial times, ticket prices aren't cheap and Southeast men's basketball hasn't been consistently strong for a while.

But it really is a shame that more fans don't show up on a regular basis to support the Redhawks, who have a good chance to be the program's most successful team since the 1999-2000 NCAA tournament squad.

Before Saturday, Southeast's average official attendance for its first seven home games was 1,936. The big turnout to see the Racers bumped the average up to 2,308.

That figure is certain to increase now that Southeast has started conference play.

But even Southeast's 2008-09 team -- the year before Nutt took over -- that went 3-27 overall and 0-18 in the OVC listed an official average attendance of 2,613.

None of Nutt's first three Southeast squads was able to match that 2008-09 attendance average, which at the time was the lowest since the Show Me Center opened for the 1987-88 season -- even though Nutt really has built the program back up.

I know attendance figures have been compiled differently the past few years than in seasons past and there is still a long way to go during this campaign.

But if what looks like Southeast's best team in at least a decade doesn't wind up averaging more fans than the horrendous 2008-09 squad -- no offense to the coaches and players on that club -- then something is seriously wrong.

Major props to Ryland "Dutch" Meyr, who was recognized for his long tenure as a local high school basketball official during Saturday's Tiger Shootout at Central High School.

Meyr was presented a plaque on behalf of the local officials' association. I'm told Meyr knew nothing about it beforehand.

But it's certainly a well-deserved honor for Meyr, who has been officiating area prep hoops for 52 years. I'm told he is the longest current active official affiliated with the Missouri State High School Activities Association.

Meyr, who is in great shape for his age and says he has no intention of hanging up his whistle any time soon, has a long and distinguished local sports background.

Meyr, a member of Southeast's Athletic Hall of Fame, was a four-year starter at tackle for Southeast's football team from 1958 to 1961, earning Little All-America honors in 1961, and he played on three MIAA championship squads.

Meyr was an assistant football coach for the then-Indians from 1969 to 1977, during which time he took part in five MIAA championships.

The Chaffee High School graduate also compiled a 25-7 record as the head football coach at Central High School.

Former Southeast standout guard Roy Booker was at the Show Me Center for Thursday's game against Austin Peay. It was great to see Booker, who I hadn't run into for several years.

Booker, a Portageville High School graduate, played just one season for Southeast after transferring from Montana. It was a big one as he led the OVC in scoring with a 22-point average as a senior in 2005-06.

Booker has been playing professionally overseas in a variety of countries ever since finishing his college career. He told me he was preparing to leave for his upcoming season in France, where he reportedly makes upwards of $100,000 a year.

I always liked Booker, who was personable and media friendly during his lone season at Southeast, and I'm happy he's doing so well.

As a side note, Booker earned his degree before departing Southeast so he has that to fall back on after his playing days are over.

The Tennessee-Martin men's basketball team, which went winless in OVC play last year, ended a 20-game conference losing streak Saturday by beating visiting Austin Peay 76-74 in overtime.

Marty Mishow is a sports writer for the Southeast Missourian.

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