Southeast men's basketball make it to the OVC tournament
The Southeast Missouri State University men's basketball team has secured a spot in the Ohio Valley Conference tournament for the second consecutive year under coach Dickey Nutt.
The top eight teams in the conference will battle for the tournament title and a berth in the NCAA Tournament. The Redhawks finished the regular season with a record of 14-15 and were 9-7 in the Ohio Valley Conference, which places them as the fifth seed in the tournament. The team had opportunities to get the third seed, but lost its last two games to Jacksonville State and Austin Peay.
"Like I told our guys yesterday, it's the most important time of the year," Nutt said in an interview on Feb. 22. "You have three seasons. You have your non-conference schedule and then your conference schedule, and then you have your tournament play, and everybody wants to be a part of March Madness. We're excited about being in the tournament because they only take eight teams, and you can't win that tournament if you're not in it, so we're very proud of our team that we were able to get in it."
The Redhawks will face No. 8 seed Eastern Kentucky at 6 p.m. Feb. 29 in the Nashville Municipal Auditorium in Nashville, Tenn. Southeast lost to Eastern Kentucky 63-59 when the teams played on Jan. 7. The Colonels scored 24 points off in the Redhawks' 17 turnovers.
"I think the biggest thing with our team right now is that we're practicing well," Nutt said. "I know this time of year, from experience, that if you're not practicing very well, you don't tend to do very well. But our team has really come out and put a lot of focus on the practice floor, and I think that's a good sign pulling in to the last stretch."
The Redhawks have three players averaging double-digit points per game against conference opponents. Tyler Stone and Marland Smith are averaging 14.1 points per game, and Leon Powell is averaging 10.2 points per game.
"Right now I think we are playing as a team," Smith said. "We don't have a lot of selfishness going on. Our offense is pretty even, it's balanced and we pretty much have a different leading scorer every game. So I think we are playing very unselfish right now."
Southeast ranks second in the OVC in scoring margin, averaging a positive 4.4-point difference against conference opponents and leads the OVC in defensive rebounding with 24.3 per game in OVC play. The Redhawks have struggled from the free-throw line and are last in the OVC, shooting 64.1 percent.
Against Murray State, Tennessee State, Morehead State and Tennessee Tech, the top four seeds in the tournament, Southeast had a record of 1-4. In the four losses, the Redhawks committed an average of 13.5 turnovers per game, and its opponents scored an average of 16 points off in turnovers. Its opponents also scored over 75 points in those losses, which is over eight points more than its OVC scoring defense average of 66.8 points per game.
"I think right now defensively we still have a lot of room to work," Nutt said. "We've been able to play pretty well, but in the games that we have lost it just comes down to a stop here or a stop there. Free-throw shooting has been a big factor for us for the last couple years, and it's no different this year. You've got to do everything perfect. You've got to play great defense, you've got to handle the ball on the offensive end and you've got to hit your free throws. If we do that, we've got a chance."