Southeast Missouri State University's women have had so many slow starts this season, they've just about given up trying to figure it out.
"I don't know how to explain it," junior forward Carina Souza said, smiling. "We need to start the game like we finish for a change."
If the Otahkians did that, they might really be dangerous. They're not doing too bad as it is.
Monday night, the Otahkians wiped out a seven-point halftime deficit with a big final period as they defeated Morehead State 78-64 in front of an announced crowd of 509 at the Show Me Center.
Southeast, bouncing back from Saturday's loss to Eastern Kentucky, improved to 14-7 overall and 8-3 in Ohio Valley Conference play. The Otahkians solidified their hold on third place and stayed just one-half game behind second-place Eastern Kentucky.
Morehead fell to 12-10 overall and 5-6 in the OVC.
"Athletics is such a mental thing, and I think we still had a hangover from Saturday," Southeast coach B.J. Smith said. "We were really sluggish to start, but we picked it up defensively in the second half."
Souza hit seven of 11 shots from the field and scored 18 points. She also pulled down nine rebounds and had three assists.
"Carina did a great job. She raised her intensity and brought us a lot of energy when most everybody else was kind of struggling," Smith said.
Junior point guard Sarah Costello, continuing to round into form after missing several games with a leg injury, had her best performance of the season with 18 points, seven assists and nine steals, the latter figure falling one short of the school record. Costello, who hit six of eight field-goal attempts, scored 15 second-half points.
"Sarah is coming around," Smith said. "I wanted her to be back at full speed right away, but it takes time. She really played well tonight, and she created a lot of havoc at the start of the second half to get us going."
Junior guard Kenja White scored 12 points, junior forward Yashika Sidbury added 10 points and freshman point guard Tiffanne Ryan had a strong all-around performance with eight points, 10 rebounds and three steals.
"Tiffanne has done really well for a freshman," Smith said.
Southeast scored just one point in the first six minutes and fell behind 7-1. The Otahkians, who held just one first-half lead, trailed 35-28 at the intermission.
"We always start slow," Sidbury said.
After pulling to within one point early in the second half, Morehead surged back ahead 48-39 with just under 13 minutes left to equal its biggest lead of the night.
But Ryan helped steady the Otahkians with a pair of 3-pointers, the second slicing their deficit to 50-47.
"Those two 3-pointers Tiffanne hit were huge," Smith said.
White's two free throws with 10:25 left made it 50-49 and senior forward Lori Chase scored inside at the 9:50 mark as Southeast surged ahead 51-50.
The Otahkians never looked back after that, building a 67-57 lead on Sidbury's 3-pointer with 4:32 left and coasting down the stretch.
"We played better defense in the second half," Souza said. "Defense is what makes us go, actually."
Southeast, which outscored Morehead 50-29 in the second half, forced 15 of the Eagles' 23 turnovers over the final 20 minutes.
The Otahkians also shot much better in the second half, 51.5 percent to 32.1 percent. The Eagles shot less than 36 percent in both halves and finished at 33.9 percent.
Travece Turner paced the Eagles with 19 points.
Southeast returns to action Wednesday night with a non-conference road game against Indiana-Purdue-Fort Wayne.
335-6611, extension 132