CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. -- Forgive Southeast Missouri State women's basketball coach B.J. Smith for being a bit overly excited Thursday night.
For the first time since Smith took over the program three years ago, Southeast has beaten Austin Peay, courtesy of a thrilling 59-56 road victory in the Ohio Valley Conference opener for both teams.
Smith's first two Southeast squads were a combined 0-6 against the Governors, two of those losses coming in the OVC Tournament.
"They've been the gorilla riding me to the finish line," Smith said, smiling. "This is just huge, not only to get that monkey off our backs but also to win our first conference game against the team that's been the best in the league the last few years."
Austin Peay (4-8, 0-1) has won the past two OVC regular-season championships and also the last four OVC tournament titles.
"We knew how big this game was to coach B.J.," senior forward Chandra Brown said. "I think he had tears rolling down his face."
Added senior guard Brandi Russia: "He talked about it every day."
Southeast (7-5, 1-0) was able to survive a back-and-forth affair that was tight throughout despite having 22 turnovers and shooting just 40 percent from the field.
"That's probably the best thing, the way we won it, even though we didn't play well," Smith said. "We had so many people come through with big plays."
Junior center Tatiana Conceicao battled gamelong foul problems to score a team-high 14 points -- 10 coming in the second half -- before she fouled out late.
"They all did a good job after I fouled out," Conceicao said. "This was an important game for us."
Junior forward Natalie Purcell, who had been in a shooting slump, added 12 points, hitting four of eight 3-pointers. Purcell, who had nine first-half points, also pulled down a game-high eight rebounds.
Conceicao and Purcell were Southeast's only double-figure scorers, but the visitors had plenty of other players perform key roles.
Russia hit three of five shots and scored eight points.
Junior forward Simone Jackson also scored eight points, all in the second half. She had five late points, including the basket that put Southeast ahead for good.
Brown scored six points off the bench, with four coming in the final two minutes.
Freshman forward Julie Sweetin played just six minutes but scored five key second-half points during a time in which Southeast was battling back from its biggest deficit of the game.
And junior point guard Wanika Owsley scored only two points but dished out seven assists while doing a stellar job harassing Austin Peay sharpshooter Kera Bergeron, who was averaging 11 points but finished with just six.
"Simone, Chandra and Julie were our best players late in the game," Smith said. "And Wanika really did a great job on Bergeron."
There were eight lead changes and six ties in a game that saw neither squad lead by more than seven points.
Southeast was ahead 21-19 at halftime and 27-20 early in the second half, but Austin Peay battled back to lead 41-35 midway through the period.
That's when Sweetin scored all five of her points, a 3-pointer that pulled Southeast to within 43-41 and a 15-footer that made it 45-45 with less than six minutes to play.
"Those were two huge baskets," Smith said.
The Govs led 49-46 with four minutes left, but Conceicao's two free throws made it 49-48, and Jackson's driving shot with 3:22 remaining put Southeast up 50-49.
Southeast did not trail again, although things were far from comfortable.
Southeast led 56-51 after baskets by Brown and Russia, but Bergeron's 3-pointer with 48 seconds left made it 56-54.
Brown's bucket with 17 seconds remaining made it 58-54. After the Govs closed to 58-56, Jackson hit one of two free throws at the 15-second mark for a 59-56 lead.
Bergeron then was harassed, first by Owsley and later by Brown, causing her 3-pointer at the buzzer to barely draw iron.
"Coach said switch all screens and we switched," Brown said. "I got a hand in her face, and I was so happy when she missed."
Ashley Haynes led Austin Peay with 13 points and Robin Leslie had 10. The Govs shot 37 percent and had 18 turnovers.
Southeast plays at preseason OVC favorite Tennessee Tech on Saturday.