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Ryan's last-second 3 puts Southeast women in final
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Tiffanne Ryan played the role of unexpected hero to the hilt Friday afternoon in the semifinals of the Ohio Valley Conference tournament.
Ryan, Southeast Missouri State's unheralded backup junior point guard, scored a team-high 15 points on five 3-pointers -- the last one coming with four-tenths of a second remaining as the second-seeded Redhawks squeezed out a thrilling 71-68 victory over third-seeded Tennessee Tech.
"It felt good when it left my hands," said Ryan, sporting an ear-to-ear grin.
The Redhawks (22-7) will play top-seeded Eastern Kentucky in today's noon championship game at the Gaylord Entertainment Center. The winner earns the OVC's automatic berth in the NCAA tournament. The Colonels (22-7) rallied past No. 4 Jacksonville State 62-60 in the other semifinal.
"That's what we started out the season shooting for, the championship," said third-year coach B.J. Smith, whose first Southeast squad lost in the 2002-03 tournament finals during the program's only other title-game appearance. "We felt like this year was our best chance."
Friday's contest was tight from start to finish, with 13 lead changes and 12 ties. Southeast never led by more than six points while Tech (21-8) was never ahead by more than three points.
"We knew it was going to be a dogfight," Smith said. "It was a great game."
Southeast surged ahead 68-62 with slightly less than 3 minutes remaining, but Tech scored six straight points for a 68-68 tie and could have taken the lead, but the Eaglettes missed a shot and the Redhawks rebounded with 30 seconds left.
Smith called a timeout with 16 seconds left to set up a final play -- and he didn't really think Ryan would end up taking the last shot.
"We had several variables we were looking for, either getting Tatiana [Conceicao] flashing into the high post, or Brandi [Russia] feeding Chandra [Brown] in low," Smith said. "But we put Tiffanne in because she was shooting good."
The Redhawks could get nothing inside and the ball wound up in senior guard Russia's hands in the middle of the floor just inside the 3-point line with time running down.
Russia quickly zipped a pass to a wide-open Ryan, standing just a foot or so behind the arc on the left side, and her shot swished through the net just before the buzzer. Tech was able to inbound the ball but a heave from well beyond half-court was way short as the Redhawks' bench erupted.
"I've never hit a last-second game-winner, not even in high school," Ryan said. "I was just telling myself the whole time that Coach must be crazy for putting me in. But if Brandi zips it to me, just let it go.
"I knew time was running down, and I had to let it go."
Ryan, who hit five of nine 3-pointers to reach a career-high point total, entered play averaging just 3.3 points per game. For much of the season, her playing time has been limited because of back pain, but lately the back has felt better and Ryan has played more.
In the Feb. 26 regular-season finale against Tennessee-Martin, Ryan tied what was then her career high with 14 points. She is averaging nearly 10 points over her last four games.
"I told Tiffanne a few days ago she might be the X-factor," Smith said. "I didn't know how much."
Conceicao, a junior center who is the OVC player of the year, scored 13 points for Southeast.
The Redhawks got a big lift from junior point guard Wanika Owsley, who scored 11 points and dished out six assists without a turnover.
"Wanika and Tiffanne both hit big shots," Smith said.
Brown, a senior forward, added nine points, 10 rebounds, three steals and two blocks. Junior guard Katrisha Dunn provided a spark off the bench with seven points, three assists and two steals.
A big factor for Southeast was hitting all 12 of its free-throw attempts after entering play ranked ninth in the league at just under 66 percent.
Now the Redhawks turn their attention to Eastern Kentucky, which beat them 66-62 on Feb. 17 in Richmond, Ky., in the only regular-season meeting between the teams.
"It should be another great game," Smith said.