Coming into Thursday night’s OVC opener, the game that had our attention was the battle between the preseason co-favorites in the West division. The Redhawks have the OVC Preseason’s Player of the Year Tyler Stone, who is playing up to expectations with nearly a double-double per game, and the favorite for OVC Newcomer of the Year in Jarekious Bradley. But tonight’s game was much more than the individual stats and accolades.
In the preseason I sat down with Head Coach Dickie Nutt and asked him if he thought the program was ready to take the next step and compete for the divisional championship and he said for the first time in a few year the did, if he team played up to what they were capable of.
Well tonight in Murray the Redhawks got their first chance of the season to take on the Racers and it didn’t start off as Nutt had wanted. Lucas Nutt saw his 67-game streak at starting point guard end, which could explain Southeast Missouri opening the game with four consecutive turnovers leading to a 10-0 start and Nutt using two timeouts.
“You can’t spot a good team that amount of points to start the game and you are playing catch up all night long,” Nutt said. “That has been the history of this team this year and we will try our best change that between now and Saturday night.”
What made Nutt even angrier was not the turnovers but Cameron Payne’s back-to-back 3s’ to open the game.
“The biggest focal point of our scouting report was Payne and we were zeroed in on him. You can’t allow that guy to get wide open looks. We didn’t have a defender probably 10 feet of him.”
Down 14-2 after the first media timeout, the Redhawks began their tall order of having to overcome the home team. With Nutt on the floor the Redhawks offense seemed to flow much better as the Redhawks offense went up-tempo and the ball found the forwards.
On the other end of the floor, it was the forwards missing as Murray State and (mostly part Jarvis Williams) eating to glass. Williams in the opening half had four offensive rebounds and gave the Racers a +8 rebound advantage in the opening half. But the half ended with the Redhawks down by just four.
“I was proud of how we clawed back in the end of the first half,” Nutt said. “It gave us some momentum but in the end we couldn’t hold them.”
The second half began with the Redhawks getting into foul trouble as Bradley, Johnson and Stone all picked up their third fouls early. The Racers extended their lead to double-digits at the first media timeout. From their it was Bradley taking over as SEMO used an 8-2 run to take their first lead of the game at 61-60.
With momentum on the Redhawks side the game was changed on a missed lay up by Nutt. The ensuing tussle for the ball ended up in the hands of Williams who was fouled by Bradley with four minutes remaining and the team down by 2. Without their leading scorer, the Racers took advantage pushing their lead to six before Josh Langford came alive. Langford scored a huge 3 to pull the Redhawks within five.
“When Bradley fouled out, that hurt us because he was feeling it right then.” Nutt said. “We found the defense that stopped them but our mentality wasn’t where it needed to be.”
Without Langford and Bradley, SEMO’s attempt to win in Murray for consecutive years was dashed with the Racers getting the 82-75 victory.
“Murray State just played tougher than we did,” Nutt said. “The offensive rebounds were the difference tonight, just a few plays here or there that really bothered us. I thought we could do much better because we have held our own in the non-conference.”
Postgame Quotes from Nutt
“Defensive rebounding needs to be a focal point of our team and it is not right now. It is more scoring and we aren’t executing and finding the open person. Defending and rebounding are needed if you are going to play at a championship level.”
Nutt said in retrospect that not having his son Lucas in the game hurt them in the opening. “You are looking at a five-year guy. He has played against the best from Memphis to Murray State and he keeps us calm and our guys look to him.” Nutt scored 8pts and had 8 assists.
On playing Austin Peay Saturday night: “My guys are going to have about 3 minutes to change their mindset Saturday night. It doesn’t matter if they are all-conference players or preseason players, if you don’t play defense, you aren’t going to play long.”