Southeast women triumph in OVC opener

Friday, December 9, 2005

The Redhawks used a strong second half to post a 71-53 victory over Tennessee State.

Thursday's final score does not even begin to describe just how hard Southeast Missouri State had to work in order to fend off an upset bid during its Ohio Valley Conference opener.

Tennessee State, which had lost its first four games of the season by an average of nearly 23 points, led Southeast for a good portion of the contest at the Show Me Center.

But the Redhawks finally gained some semblance of control midway through the second half and pulled away late for a 71-53 victory.

The Redhawks improved to 4-3 overall as they geared up for Saturday's early season conference showdown at home against Tennessee Tech.

The Tigers fell to 0-5.

"I feel good about coming away from this game with a win because Tennessee State really concerned me, especially with Tennessee Tech on the horizon," Southeast coach B.J. Smith said. "I felt they were a lot better than their record. All four games, with 10 minutes to go, they were right there.

"You've got to appreciate wins, and we'll appreciate this one."

Southeast players also said they anticipated a battle from the Tigers, who started four freshmen.

"We kind of prepared for a tough one," said senior forward Natalie Purcell, who scored a career-high 22 points and pulled down nine rebounds. "We didn't take them lightly. They had played some really tough teams. We knew they were a good team."

Added senior center Tatiana Conceicao, the reigning OVC player of the year: "We knew it was going to be tough. We can't take anybody for granted."

Conceicao, the OVC's leading scorer, was held to only two points in the first 25-plus minutes.

But she exploded for 16 points over the final 14:07 to finish with 18 points, about four below her average.

"They were in a zone [defense], and it made it kind of hard early in the game," Conceicao said.

Senior forward Simone Jackson added 10 points and seven rebounds; senior point guard Wanika Owsley -- who leads the OVC in assists and steals -- had nine points, six assists and three steals; and freshman guard Tarina Nixon scored eight points.

Purcell and Nixon helped keep Southeast afloat during a first half that saw TSU lead most of the way. Purcell had 10 points and Nixon six as the Redhawks rallied to go ahead 26-23 at the break, although Southeast was well off its scoring average of nearly 75 points per game.

"I thought they played a lot harder than us in the first half," Smith said. "I thought they came in with a playoff intensity, like this was their season."

TSU took one more lead early in the second half and there were three ties before Conceicao finally got going to help Southeast gain control.

Conceicao's two free throws with 12:15 remaining completed a string of six straight points by her and put the Redhawks ahead to stay at 39-37, although it was still a while before they could shake the Tigers for good.

Two more free throws by Conceicao with 10:56 left capped a 9-0 run and opened up a 44-37 lead, but TSU was within 50-46 with under 8 minutes to go.

Jackson's basket at the 5:51 mark capped a 6-0 burst that put Southeast on top 56-46 for the game's first double-digit lead. TSU got no closer than eight points as the Redhawks steadily pulled away.

"I thought we finally matched their intensity in the second half," Smith said. "We finally played more our game."

Southeast forced 13 of TSU's 21 turnovers in the second half. The Redhawks had only 12 turnovers, which is well below their average.

Freshman forward Tiffany Jackson led the Tigers with 17 points. Also reaching double figures were two more freshmen, forward Obiageli Okafor with 14 points and guard Kendra Appling with 11.

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