Southeast women claim OT thriller over Illinois-Chicago

Sunday, November 28, 2004

There was no official championship game in the HealthPoint Plaza Thanksgiving Classic -- but you'd have a hard time convincing Southeast Missouri State University and Illinois-Chicago of that.

Those women's basketball teams, after winning their opening games on Friday, put on quite a show during the event's final contest Saturday afternoon.

It took overtime, but host Southeast wound up thrilling nearly 500 enthusiastic fans at the Show Me Center with an 85-82 victory.

So Southeast (3-1), which has won three straight after a season-opening loss at 21st-ranked Oklahoma, is the unofficial Thanksgiving Classic champion after being the only squad to win both its games.

"We had a little tournament atmosphere today," a smiling Southeast coach B.J. Smith said. "It was a really good game, and it was great to see our fans get into it like that.

"I don't know that we were real sharp, but they're a good team and they played very well."

Even though Southeast struggled at times -- the team had 27 turnovers and trailed the majority of regulation -- some extremely clutch plays late in the second half and in overtime had Smith more than pleased.

"Late in the game we made a lot of plays and showed a lot of composure, and we got big plays from a lot of people. I think these kinds of games are good for you," Smith said.

Southeast trailed 74-67 with a little more than two minutes remaining in the second half.

"Things didn't look good at that time," Smith said.

But Southeast stormed back, first getting close on a 3-pointer by Natalie Purcell and two free throws by Chandra Brown to make it 74-72 with 1:45 remaining.

Southeast trailed 76-73 when Tatiana Conceicao scored inside with 14 seconds left, pulling the home squad to within a point.

With 12 seconds left, UIC's Kelly True hit one of two free throws for a 77-75 lead. After the second miss, Brandi Russia drove the length of the court for a layup with 5.5 seconds remaining. After UIC missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer, the squads headed to overtime tied 77-77.

"We were down by two, it was in my hands and I just went all the way with it," Russia said.

The teams exchanged the first baskets of the five-minute overtime period, but Canceicao hit two free throws at the 3:46 mark to put Southeast ahead 81-79 and the team never trailed again, although things remained tense.

Brown scored inside to make it 83-80. After UIC pulled to within 83-82, the Flames had three straight possessions to take the lead but they missed four shots during that span.

Canceicao hit two free throws with nine seconds left to make it 85-82, then UIC missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer.

"It was a tough game and we beat a good team," Russia said.

Canceicao, Southeast's touted junior college transfer center, scored 26 points and grabbed 10 rebounds as she was named the event's MVP, and also Southeast's Copi-Rite player of the game. Canceicao also had six steals and blocked three shots.

"It was a good game, like a championship game," Canceicao said. "We stuck together the whole time. That was the key."

Russia, a senior guard, had 17 points and seven assists to join Canceicao on the six-player all-Thanksgiving Classic team.

Brown, a senior forward, added 12 points and pulled down 13 rebounds for Southeast, which trailed 42-40 at halftime.

For the Flames (1-3), Krystal Hugelier scored 25 points, True had 20 and Jacquay Holmes added 16. Hugelier and teammate Chrissy Dizon were on the all-Thanksgiving Classic team, along with Arkansas-Little Rock's Alicia Cash and Texas Southern's Victoria Jones.

In Saturday's first game, pitting teams that had lost on Friday, Arkansas-Little Rock (1-3) beat Texas Southern (0-3) 76-72. Cash had 29 points for the Trojans.

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