JACKSONVILLE, Ala. -- Southeast Missouri State University was the Ohio Valley Conference preseason favorite in women's basketball while first-year OVC member Jacksonville State was expected to loiter near the bottom of the standings.
But those teams have been heading in unexpectedly opposite directions -- and that continued Thursday night when the Gamecocks rolled past the visiting Otahkians 95-83.
The Otahkians fell to 8-10 overall and 3-4 in OVC play as they suffered their third straight loss, all on the road.
JSU, selected eighth in the OVC's preseason coaches' poll, improved to 12-5 and 6-1 with its fifth consecutive victory. The Gamecocks, 7-0 at home, remained in second place in the league, just one-half game behind Austin Peay.
"It's very frustrating," said Southeast coach B.J. Smith. "We're just not playing very well right now."
Shanika Freeman, a JSU junior forward who is the OVC's second-leading scorer at 20.8 points per game, had 24 points, including 18 in the second half. Four other players reached double figures for the Gamecocks.
Southeast also had five double-figure scorers, led by Kenja White with 16 points. Sami Jo Cotton added 13, Carina Souza and Yashika Sidbury 12 apiece, and Sarah Costello 11.
"We have to do something to turn it around," Souza said.
Two big first-half runs allowed the Gamecocks to open up a huge lead, which gave them more than enough cushion to hold off a second-half Southeast charge.
Southeast scored the game's first five points and also led 8-4. JSU then used a 20-2 spurt -- helped out by seven Otahkian turnovers -- to take command at 24-10.
After Southeast pulled to within 26-17, JSU scored 15 of the next 18 points to open up a 41-20 bulge. The Gamecocks led 41-22 at halftime as the Otahkians had twice as many turnovers (12) as field goals (six).
"I didn't feel like we came out ready to play. Our intensity wasn't there," Smith said. "They executed their game plan better than we did."
Said Souza, "We didn't do anything offensively the first half and our defense wasn't that good."
Southest finally came to life some in the second half. After falling behind 43-22, the Otahkians used a 17-4 run to close within 47-39 with nearly 15 minutes still to play.
After falling back behind 54-39, the Otahkians made one more charge as they sliced the deficit to 57-51 with almost nine minutes remaining.
But the Gamecocks again pulled away, boosting their lead to 17 points before cruising down the stretch. Southeast outscored JSU 61-54 in a foul-plagued second half that featured 63 free throws.
"It's tough when you get behind as far as we did," Smith said. "We had too many mental breakdowns."
The Otahkians shot 37.3 percent from the field (22 of 59), including 26.7 percent from 3-point range (eight of 30). JSU shot 53.4 percent (31 of 58), including 45.5 percent on 3-pointers (five of 11). Both teams had 21 turnovers.
Southeast will play the last of four straight road games Saturday, facing Samford in a 4 p.m. tipoff in Birmingham, Ala.