Redhawks reach semis with rout of Murray St.

Wednesday, March 1, 2006

Southeast posted an 80-49 victory in the first round of the OVC tournament.

It usually takes an awful lot to impress Southeast Missouri State coach B.J. Smith.

But even Smith couldn't contain his enthusiasm following Tuesday night's first-round Ohio Valley Conference tournament game against visiting Murray State.

"That was impressive," said a smiling Smith.

And why shouldn't Smith have felt that way?

The second-seeded Redhawks put on a virtual clinic in dismantling the seventh-seeded Racers 80-49 in front of a charged-up crowd of more than 1,100 at the Show Me Center.

"Oh, my God, that was a good game for us," Southeast senior center Tatiana Conceicao said.

Southeast, after tying for the OVC regular-season championship, will carry a 20-8 record into Friday's 2 p.m. semifinal against third-seeded Samford in Nashville, Tenn.

Samford (21-7) handed the Redhawks two of their four regular-season conference losses.

"They're going to come strong," Conceicao said. "But if we play like we did tonight, we're going to beat them."

Smith and his players said they fully expected to be challenged by the Racers (11-17), even though the Redhawks beat MSU by at least 10 points twice during the regular season.

"We knew it was going to be tough," senior forward Natalie Purcell said. "We knew we had to stay focused."

Focused the Redhawks were. They scored the game's first seven points, led 35-19 at halftime and never saw their advantage dip under 13 points in the second half.

The Redhawks led by at least 17 points for the last 16 minutes, and they were ahead by at least 20 points for the final 11 minutes.

"I knew it was going to be tough, but we knew we had to bring our 'A' game," Conceicao said. "We tried to stay focused the whole time."

Conceicao, the reigning OVC player of the year who is again one of the leading candidates for that honor, certainly was focused on both ends of the floor.

In addition to scoring a game-high 23 points on 9-for-15 shooting and grabbing a game-high 11 rebounds, Conceicao was mainly responsible for limiting MSU standout junior forward Joi Scott to just 13 points, which is more than seven points below her average.

"I thought Tatiana had as much focus as she's had in a long time," Smith said. "She really played well on both ends."

Conceicao scored 16 first-half points in helping the Redhawks get off to a good start, then Purcell scored all 13 of her points in the second half when Southeast blew things wide open. Purcell hit three of five 3-pointers.

"We've always had good second halves, but we always start slow," Purcell said. "It was nice to have a good first half."

With the game becoming such a blowout, Smith was able to substitute freely, so only Conceicao and Purcell hit double figures for Southeast.

But a host of others had a major hand in the romp.

Senior forward Simone Jackson scored nine points, while senior guard Tiffanne Ryan added eight points and a game-high five assists off the bench.

Junior center Lachelle Lyles also had a strong game off the bench with eight points and eight rebounds as Southeast controlled the boards 42-31. Lyles made all four of her field-goal attempts.

"Everybody played really good," Purcell said. "This was as close to putting 40 minutes together as we've had."

Southeast shot a solid 49.2 percent (29 of 59), made 10 of 26 3-pointers (38.5 percent) and limited the Racers to 34 percent shooting (18 of 53), including 24.1 percent in the first half.

"That defensive performance in the first half was something," Smith said.

Ryan, for one, said she was not surprised by the lopsided victory.

"We have a lot of scorers," she said. "If we can all shoot together at the same time like tonight, we can beat teams like this."

Except for a 43-point rout of Tennessee State, which did not win a game this season, Southeast had no OVC victory by more than 19 points.

With the Redhawks having such an easy time Tuesday, Smith was able to get all 15 of his players into the game, and 12 of them scored.

"You don't expect something like that in a tournament game, especially since we had to really battle to beat most teams this year," Smith said. "But I thought we really played well."

Well enough for the Redhawks to impress their hard-to-impress coach.

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