NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Southeast Missouri State's hopes of gaining a third straight NCAA tournament berth ended Friday.
But the Redhawks' season did not, even though they lost to Eastern Illinois 52-40 in the semifinals of the Ohio Valley Conference women's basketball tournament.
The Women's National Invitation Tournament issues berths to all regular-season conference champions that don't make the NCAA tournament.
The 48-team WNIT field will be announced March 17, after the NCAA field is set. First-round games at campus sites begin March 19.
"I'm proud that we get to keep playing," Southeast coach John Ishee said. "We've got a chance to go play and win some more games. We still have a chance to tie the most wins in Division I [at Southeast], or break it."
Southeast is 23-8. Last's year's squad went 24-8 for the most victories since the program moved to Division I during the 1991-92 season.
Southeast players were disappointed that they have no chance to capture their third consecutive OVC tournament title and automatic NCAA berth.
But the Redhawks, winners of three straight OVC regular-season titles, seemed pleased that they would get to play at least one more game.
"I get a chance to be around my teammates a little more," senior center Missy Whitney said.
Junior point guard Tarina Nixon has been a starter since her freshman season, so all she has known is competing in the NCAA tournament.
Nixon also welcomed the chance to participate in the WNIT, although she kept that event in perspective.
"It's nice to keep playing," Nixon said. "But it's not the NCAAs."
Ishee said the Redhawks will have a few days off before resuming practice to stay as sharp as possible for the WNIT.
Nixon's ailing hand
Nixon has not only dealt with back problems all season, but for about the last three weeks she also has been playing with an injured right hand.
During a practice the day before the OVC tournament semifinal, Nixon "re-hit" her shooting hand on one of her teammates.
Then early during Friday's contest, Nixon said she hit the hand again on one of the Panthers' players.
Although Nixon acknowledged the hand bothered her, she refused to use that as an alibi after she shot 1-of-6 from the field, including 1-of-4 from 3-point range.
"We can't make excuses," Nixon said.
Ishee, however, said the injured hand held Nixon back as she seemed reluctant to shoot at times.
"I think it bothered Tarina a lot," Ishee said.