Southeast puts away Jacksonville State, finishes OVC play at 16-4

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Southeast will host Murray State on Tuesday at the Show Me Center in the first round of the league tourney.

It took two tries, but Southeast Missouri State still got the first Ohio Valley Conference women's basketball title in program history.

Southeast ended its regular season Saturday night by beating visiting Jacksonville State 87-72, allowing the Redhawks to finish as OVC co-champions along with Tennessee Tech.

"It's a phenomenal accomplishment, to do something for the first time in school history," Southeast coach B.J. Smith said. "These young ladies should be very proud. This is something nobody will ever be able to take away from them."

The Redhawks, the No. 2 seed for the eight-team OVC tournament, will host seventh-seeded Murray State at 7 p.m. Tuesday in a first-round game.

"We're really proud of it [the championship], to do something for the first time in the history of the school," Southeast senior center Tatiana Conceicao said.

Southeast (19-8, 16-4) showed no ill effects from Thursday's loss to Samford that ended the Redhawks' 12-game winning streak and cost them a shot at capturing the OVC title outright.

"It's good to bounce back," Smith said. "That was my biggest concern, that we would have a hangover from that game.

"I thought we came out and did a good job. At moments we played really well."

The six seniors -- four starters and two key reserves -- who have been so crucial to Southeast's success the past two years showed the way to the championship Saturday as they combined for 77 of the Redhawks 87 points.

"What a special group," Smith said. "I am so happy for them."

Conceicao, the reigning OVC player of the year, scored a game-high 25 points, 19 coming in the second half. She also led in assists with five.

Senior forward Natalie Purcell followed with 24 points, and she pulled down a game-high 11 rebounds while adding three steals.

Purcell scored 17 first-half points, hitting four straight 3-pointers after missing her initial two from long range. She finished five of 11 from beyond the arc, after making just two of 10 Thursday against Samford.

"We shot it a lot better than against Samford," Purcell said. "It's always nice to hit some shots."

Senior guard Tiffanne Ryan came off the bench to hit two 3-pointers in the first half, and she finished with 11 points.

Senior forward Simone Jackson, although not having one of her better offensive games, contributed seven points. Senior point guard Wanika Owsley and senior backup guard Katrisha Dunn both added five points, with Dunn getting three steals.

"It's good to be No. 1," Jackson said. "We'd rather have it all to ourselves, but we'll take it."

The Redhawks were in control most of the way Saturday, as they trailed just once, at 11-10 in the early going.

Purcell's hot hand then helped turn the tide in Southeast's favor. She put together a personal 9-0 run -- hitting two 3-pointers, and a conventional 3-point play -- as the Redhawks went ahead 19-11.

Ryan's 3-pointer completed a 12-0 spurt, as the Redhawks built a 22-11 lead midway through the period.

It was 38-30 at halftime, and the Redhawks steadily pulled away until they led 66-49 with 8 minutes remaining.

Jacksonville State (11-16, 9-11) got within 78-70 at the 1:45 mark, but Southeast hit six free throws to regain control. Conceicao's long 3-pointer with 11 seconds ended the scoring and punctuated the victory.

Southeast shot 44.8 percent from the field (26 of 58), and 43.3 percent from 3-point range (13 of 30).

"We really wanted this one," Owsley said.

Now the Redhawks will begin setting their sights on the OVC tournament title and the league's automatic NCAA tournament berth. They came close last year before losing to Eastern Kentucky in double-overtime in the title contest.

"This is great, winning the championship, but we're still focusing on the big games in the tournament," Purcell said.

Added Ryan: "That's our biggest goal. We won't be totally satisfied unless we win the tournament.

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