New SEMO guard hoping to make mark defensively in 22-23 opener
Tom Davis ~ Tdavis@semoball.com
With sunshine beaming down and mild temperatures drifting throughout Southeast Missouri of late, it may be difficult to fathom, but college basketball season is here. As in today.
The Southeast Missouri State men’s basketball squad will open its 2022-23 season, for real, as it travels to American Athletic Conference foe South Florida at 7 p.m. (ESPN+).
“The guys are locked in and ready to get after it,” third-year Redhawk coach Brad Korn said recently. “There are a lot of new faces, and everybody seems to be pretty motivated.”
SEMO is coming off a successful 2021-22 season, in which Korn guided his team to its first Ohio Valley Conference Tournament semifinal appearance in 17 years and fourth in program history, as it won 14 games (eight in the OVC).
“I think that it is that time of year where everybody is excited to get going,” Korn said, “and put all of the new pieces together and get out there and compete.”
The Redhawks have an abundance of “new pieces,” as Korn added 10 new players to this year’s roster. One of those additions is senior guard Israel Barnes, who played effectively at both ends of the floor in SEMO’s exhibition rout of NCAA Division III Fontbonne last month.
“I try to bring leadership,” Barnes said following his first appearance in a Redhawk jersey. “Be that older guy, who makes everybody comfortable out there on the court.”
The 6-foot-4 Barnes began his career at NCAA Division I program Weber State, where he played in 28 games in two seasons, starting five.
He matriculated to Texas- Permian Basin for a season, before landing at NCAA Division II Newman University last year, where he led his team in scoring (18.9) points per game. However, it was evident against Fontbonne, that Barnes is a two-way player.
“Defensively,” Barnes said, “I want t give us a lot of energy, a lot of talk.”
In 30 minutes of playing time in that exhibition game, Barnes scored 10 points and grabbed seven rebounds, which trailed only new Redhawk forward Kobe Clark, who had eight.
“The coaches stressed to me,” Barnes explained, “to be athletic down there and try to get as many (rebounds) as I can to get more possessions. Hopefully, I can keep doing that.”
Barnes sat out the team’s second exhibition game against NCAA Division III Aurora University after “banging knees” in a practice prior to that game.
Despite his history of being productive offensively, Barnes said he wants to impact the game more so defensively.
“I don’t really try to focus on that too much,” Barnes said of scoring. “When I get good looks, I’ll take open shots. Our continuity will come over time with us building chemistry over time.
“I’m going to step up and knock open shots down and do all that I can, as far as that goes, but defense is where we need to hang our hat.”
Barnes is not listed in the expected starting lineup for tonight.
Korn appears to be going with senior Nate Johnson (center), sophomore Clark (forward), and a three-guard lineup of sophomores Phillip Russell and new Redhawk Aquan Smart, as well as graduate student Chris Harris.
SEMO is 2-0 in season-opening games under Korn.
The Redhawks stunned Missouri State (99-94) in Springfield to open last season, and won Korn’s debut with the program at Kansas City (71-66).