Redhawks get back on winning track

Tuesday, January 3, 2006

Southeast used a 24-2 run early in the second half to post a 72-62 victory.

MURRAY, Ky. -- Southeast Missouri State finally put together the kind of defensive performance coach B.J. Smith had been looking for.

And once the Redhawks' offense caught up, they were able to enjoy one of their few comfortable victories of the season.

The Redhawks hit Murray State with a devastating 24-2 run to start the second half, as they cruised past the host Racers 72-62 Saturday night.

Southeast improved to 7-7 overall and 4-3 in Ohio Valley Conference play. It was only the Redhawks' second OVC win by 10 or more points, after the Redhawks posted 12 of their 14 regular-season league victories last year by at least 10 points.

"I thought our defense was much better," Smith said. "For 30 minutes, we looked like I thought we would look all year."

Southeast allowed an average of just 61.5 points per game during last year's highly successful season, but they entered play Saturday giving up an average of 73.5 points a contest.

MSU (4-10, 3-4 OVC) probably wouldn't have even approached 60 points if not for a late barrage after the game had long been decided. The Racers shot just 21.4 percent in the first half, and finished at 30.5 percent.

The Redhawks led by more than 20 points for much of the second half before the Racers were able to make things appear fairly respectable.

"Coach B.J. was so happy about it," senior center Tatiana Conceicao said of the Redhawks' performance. "He said that was a real good 35 minutes. It's the way we played last year, and what we're trying to get back to."

Conceicao had her third double-double of the week by scoring 23 points and grabbing 11 rebounds.

Senior forward Natalie Purcell added 13 points, while senior forward Simone Jackson had nine points, seven rebounds and five assists. Senior guard Wanika Owsley, the OVC leader in assists, had six of those against just one turnover.

Southeast trailed only twice all game, and that was in the opening 4 minutes.

The squads were tied 20-20 late in the first half as the contest had all the makings of another struggle for Southeast.

But that never materialized. The Redhawks scored the final seven points of the period -- five by senior guard Tiffanne Ryan, who had her second straight solid performance off the bench as she led Southeast with eight first-half points -- to go ahead 27-20 at intermission.

Then came Southeast's decisive run at the outset of the second half, when the Redhawks hit nine of their first 12 shots and outscored the Racers 24-2, with eight of the points coming from Purcell, while senior guard Katrisha Dunn hit two 3-pointers off the bench.

All of a sudden the Redhawks led 51-22 with just under 14 minutes remaining. MSU only got within the final 10-point margin in the final 5 seconds.

"I thought it was an impressive run," Smith said in something of an understatement.

Southeast shot 57.1 percent in the second half (16 of 28), and finished at 46.6 percent (27 of 58).

"This is our best game, no doubt," Smith said. "Our kids really responded well after the Eastern Illinois game [a road loss Thursday night]. Nobody hung their heads."

The Redhawks hope that Saturday's triumph finally begins a winning streak -- although they realize they have said the same thing many times this season after what seemed like other big victories, only to have that not materialize.

"I'm encouraged," Smith said. "I feel a lot better than I did a few days ago."

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