Southeast opens conference schedule with 74-59 win over Eastern Illinois.
By Marty Mishow ~ Southeast Missourian
It was not the prettiest of performances, but B.J. Smith wasn't about to complain.
Southeast Missouri State University's women gave their first-year coach a victory in his inaugural Ohio Valley Conference game as the Otahkians opened league play by beating Eastern Illinois 74-59 Saturday night at the Show Me Center.
The Otahkians, now 7-4 overall, won despite shooting just 39.3 percent from the field and committing 19 turnovers.
Fortunately for Southeast, EIU (1-10, 0-1) shot only 41.5 percent and had 23 turnovers.
"A win's a win," Smith said. "Every conference game is huge, especially against a team you're supposed to beat. Kids aren't stupid. They read the paper and see the scores. They know Eastern Illinois is struggling.
"Offensively, we're still not in the flow yet. We still haven't played enough together. We're not meshing enough together, but we had some flashes and we'll get there. Defensively, after they got to 20 points I thought we did a good job."
Junior guard Kenja White, who starred for Smith at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M Junior College but had not seen competitive action in nearly two years before arriving at Southeast, continued to thrive as she continues to improve her conditioning.
White, who has lost about 45 pounds since school started, scored a season-high 23 points as she hit eight of 16 field-goal attempts. She also blocked two shots.
"I'm down to about 160 or 163 and I want to get to 155," said the 5-foot-8 White, who has explosive quickness. "I'm trying to get the bounce back in my step. I'd been off a while but I feel like it's coming back."
White said she shed the excess pounds by "working really hard. I put in a lot of extra hours after practice on the treadmill and I watch what I eat."
Said Smith, "Kenja gets better every day. She really hadn't played in two years before this season and that's hard to do."
Carina Souza and Lori Chase both scored 11 points for Southeast while Miah Shelford added 10 to go along with a game-high nine rebounds as she continues to progress after recently recovering from an injury. The Otahkians held a 41-31 rebounding edge.
Freshman Tiffanne Ryan -- starting at point guard in place of the injured Sarah Costello -- paced the Otahkians in assists with seven and she also hit both of her 3-point attempts to add six points. LaShelle Porter recorded five assists.
EIU was led by Katie Meyers with 13 points. Brooke Gossett scored 12.
Most of the first half featured numerous lead changes before the Otahkians finally took control by scoring the final 11 points of the period to grab a 37-27 halftime advantage.
Shelford gave the Otahkians the lead for good with a basket at the 2:34 mark that made it 28-27. White scored four straight points, Shelford hit a free throw, freshman Shannon Proffit drove for a basket and Shelford's follow shot with eight seconds left put Southeast up by 10 at the break.
"You look up and they're tied with us and you start to get a little nervous," Smith said. "But the run at the end of the first half really helped us."
After going ahead by 13 points early in the second half, EIU used an 8-0 run to pull within five points. The Panthers were still in contention as they trailed by just six points midway through the period before an 8-0 Otahkian run again opened up some breathing room at 63-49.
With 5:22 remaining, Ryan hit the last of her two second-half 3-pointers to put the Otahkians ahead 66-51 and pretty much end any comeback hopes EIU still had. Southeast led by as many as 19 points in the late going.
"We didn't play like we have been in practice, but it's real good to win," White said. "We still have a long way to go, but we're improving."