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Southeast women fail in first crack at share of title
Samford posted a 57-53 victory to snap the Redhawks' streak.
Samford sure knows how to spoil a good party.
An enthusiastic crowd of about 1,000 gathered at the Show Me Center on Thursday night hoping to celebrate Southeast Missouri State's first Ohio Valley Conference title in women's basketball.
But the Bulldogs ruined those plans with a stunning 57-53 victory that ended the Redhawks' 12-game winning streak.
Southeast (18-8, 15-4) can still tie for the program's initial OVC championship, but to do so it must beat visiting Jacksonville State in Saturday's regular-season finale.
Tennessee Tech's triumph over Murray State on Thursday night in its final game, coupled with Southeast's loss, clinches at least a share of the regular-season crown for the Eaglettes.
"It's disappointing. We sure wanted to win here tonight," Southeast coach B.J. Smith said. "But back when we were 3-3 [in OVC play], we would sure have taken winning one of these last two for the conference championship."
Samford (19-7, 14-5) wrapped up at least third place in the 11-team OVC, and the Bulldogs can still tie Southeast for second if they win at Eastern Illinois on Saturday and the Redhawks falter.
The Bulldogs have handed Southeast two of its four conference losses, although this one was much different than Samford's 91-76 win on Dec. 18 in Birmingham, Ala.
Samford put the clamps on Southeast defensively much of the game, limiting the Redhawks to 37 percent shooting (20 of 54). Southeast hit just 6 of 28 3-pointers (21.4 percent).
"They had good defense, but I kind of think a lot of it was our fault," Southeast senior center Tatiana Conceicao said.
Perhaps the best thing the Bulldogs did was get Conceicao in foul trouble after she had proven to be virtually unstoppable.
Conceicao was about all the offense Southeast had in the first half. She scored 16 of her squad's 22 points, hitting seven of nine from the field, including two of three on 3-pointers. The rest of the Redhawks shot two of 20, including one of 12 from 3-point range.
"We were real stagnant offensively," Southeast senior forward Simone Jackson said.
The teams were tied 22-22 at halftime, as Conceicao had just two fouls at that point. But she picked up two more fouls in less than 8 minutes to start the final period.
Conceicao went to the bench with 12:13 remaining, having scored 18 points as Southeast led 31-30.
"They had a hard time defending her," Smith said. "It was disappointing to see her get in foul trouble."
By the time Conceicao came back into the game, with 4:26 remaining, Southeast trailed 46-42.
The Redhawks were able to make things interesting down the stretch, but the Bulldogs seemingly had an answer for everything Southeast threw at them.
"They hit some really big shots," Smith said.
Southeast pulled within 46-44 and 48-46, but both times Samford followed with baskets.
Senior forward Natalie Purcell's 3-pointer at the 1:28 mark brought the Redhawks within 50-49, but the Bulldogs responded with a bucket.
Conceicao hit two free throws with 47 seconds left, making it 52-51, but with the shot clock nearing expiration, Karmen Smith drained a 3-pointer, putting Samford up 55-51 with 15 seconds remaining.
"That shot was huge," Smith said.
The Redhawks still had a chance after Conceicao's basket with 8.7 seconds to go made it 55-53.
But Samford's Chelsee Insell hit two free throws with 7.8 seconds left to effectively seal the win.
Conceicao finished with 24 points, hitting nine of 14 shots. Jackson added 15 points, 12 in the second half, as she shot six of 11.
The rest of the Redhawks, however, hit just five of 29 from the field. Purcell particularly struggled at 2-for-13, including 2-for-10 on 3-pointers.
"It's a little frustrating we didn't make a better showing offensively," Smith said. "They [Samford] play hard, real physical."
Junior forward Veronica Pike, averaging just 5.1 points per game, came off the bench to lead the Bulldogs with 17 points.
Samford became one of the few teams to shoot well against Southeast during its late-season charge, as the Bulldogs hit 52.8 percent (19 of 36).
"We didn't do as well defensively as we should have," Jackson said.
Yet the Redhawks still have a chance to make school history Saturday, as long as they beat Jacksonville State.
"It's a heartbreaker. I wish we could have won it tonight," Jackson said. "Now we have to get it Saturday."