Despite finale loss to Austin Peay, Southeast Missouri State women's basketball gets help to head back to OVC Tourney

Saturday, February 25, 2017
FRED LYNCH ~ Southeast Missouri State's Dolapo Balogun grabs a loose ball away from Austin Peay's Bri Williams during the fourth quarter Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017 at the Show Me Center.
Fred Lynch

It's not how anyone wants to reach their goals. Not by pounding their fists in frustration at missed opportunities before wondering and waiting and staring at their phones.

But even when Southeast Missouri State women's basketball coach Rekha Patterson raised her arms in celebration -- and relief -- in the upper reaches of the Show Me Center, and her players high-fived each other in the stands more than an hour after their game had ended in defeat on Saturday afternoon, the taste was sweet.

Thanks to help from other teams, the Redhawks are heading back to the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament for the second year in a row.

FRED LYNCH ~ Southeast Missouri State players on the bench cheer a score against Austin Peay during the third quarter Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017 at the Show Me Center.
Fred Lynch

The last time the SEMO women qualified for the conference tournament two years in a row was a run of three berths from 2007-09 under head coach John Ishee (prior to which wins and two consecutive tournament appearances in 2004-06 were vacated due to NCAA violations).

The program had not reached the postseason since then until Patterson arrived last season.

Southeast will be the No. 8 seed and face top seed Belmont on Wednesday at 1 p.m. at the Municipal Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee.

"Think about how we had to do it," Patterson said. " ... Every game we're undersized. Every game we go into we're under-talented. Is that even a word? But we found a way. Sometimes you just get lucky, and today we got lucky ... and sometimes that's all it takes. That gives us a chance."

Southeast could have sealed its future with a victory over Austin Peay in the regular-season finale. Instead, SEMO let a halftime lead get away in a 74-64 loss, leaving the Redhawks to wait out other results to determine their fate.

Nearly 60 minutes after Southeast (13-16 overall, 7-9 OVC) walked off the floor, UT Martin edged Murray State 83-82 in a result that came down to the final seconds. That, combined with Jacksonville State's loss to Morehead State earlier in the day, propelled SEMO into the tournament.

"When you are building a program that has been to the OVC Tournament once in the last how many years? You'll take it however you can get it," Patterson said.

"Obviously we would have loved to have won today and finished our seniors out the right way, but I wanted to get to Nashville. We're not a program that's established enough to say that we're disappointed in how we got there, you know? Thinking big picture, you have to be excited that you get another chance to play. ... That's all you can ever hope for when you put yourself in the situation that we did today with a loss."

When it had a chance to control its destiny, Southeast led by as many as 10 points in the second quarter and nine at halftime before succumbing to a 9-2 Austin Peay run to start the third quarter and never quite recovering.

"I think you've got to give credit to Austin Peay," Patterson said. "Lots and lots of credit. They were the tougher team tonight. It showed in the first four minutes of the third quarter when they came out and smacked us in the face with that [9-2] run. It was literally a lack of toughness. That part is disappointing -- you had an opportunity to clinch your spot going to Nashville, and they came and took it out of our hands."

APSU's Tearra Banks hit a short jump shot with 5 minutes, 16 seconds left to play and the Governors never trailed again, securing their own future in the OVC Tournament.

Banks again starred for Austin Peay (14-15, 8-8), finishing with 21 points on 9-of-15 shooting and pulling down 13 rebounds.

Beth Rates finished with 18 points for APSU, while Falon Baker and Keisha Gregory contributed 14 and 12 points, respectively.

Austin Peay was 26 of 55 (47.3 percent) from the floor in the game, including 16 of 26 (61.5 percent) in the second half as it rallied.

After Southeast held an edge in paint points in the first half, the Governors outscored it in that area 20-12 after halftime.

"Our goal was to keep it out of the paint as much as possible -- keep it from the high post as much as possible, because once it goes to the high post it's really easy to throw that high-low lob and there's no help defense," Patterson said. " ... We were supposed to take away the drop-step baseline, and we didn't do that. Whenever [Banks] did put it on the floor, we didn't dig. The things we did fairly well in the second quarter, and actually after their first run to start the game, we stopped doing in the third quarter."

Southeast, meanwhile, struggled to hit its shots, going 23 of 70 (32.9 percent) from the floor on the day, including 16 of 56 (28.6 percent) after the first quarter.

After the game, Patterson said by her count SEMO missed 14 layups.

"I'll say this: I was concerned about this moment for these young ladies," Patterson said. "Who was going to step up? I felt like I knew who was and it ended up being who I thought it was going to be, but we had other young ladies who had opportunities just to do the simple things. I know they wanted to do it. There's no doubt. They don't want to miss, they don't want to turn it over, but we had an opportunity and we didn't take advantage of it. Then it starts to get in your head."

In her final home performance, Redhawks senior Bri Mitchell led all scorers with 23 points on 9-of-28 shooting.

Ashton Luttrull added 11 points, Adrianna Murphy had nine points, 10 rebounds and four steals and Deja Jones had nine points and six rebounds.

Austin Peay opened the game by hitting its first three shots but SEMO pushed back and a Mitchell jump shot with 33 seconds on the clock sent Southeast into the second quarter with an 18-15 edge.

The Redhawks were able to limit the Governors offensively -- 20 percent from the field -- in the second quarter and extended the advantage.

By the time a 1-of-14 Austin Peay shooting stretch came to a close, Ashton Luttrull had knocked down a 3 and Mitchell scored in transition to give SEMO its biggest lead of the first half, 33-23.

The gap was 36-27 at halftime.

FRED LYNCH ~ Southeast Missouri State's Bri Mitchell drives to the basket as Austin Peay's Keisha Gregory defends during the fourth quarter Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017 at the Show Me Center.
Fred Lynch

The visitors roared back into the game in the third quarter, hitting their first eight shots of the period to pull within three, 49-46, at 4:59.

Southeast was able to hold off APSU for a few minutes, but a pair of free throws from Gregory capped an 8-0 swing and put Austin Peay on top 54-53 going into the fourth quarter.

The teams traded the lead through the first half of the final period, with a Mitchell jump shot giving the home team a 61-59 lead with 6:20 left.

It was the Redhawks' last lead of the game.

Trailing by as many as four late, Southeast drew back within one, but Rates converted a pair of free throws with 2:43 left to play and SEMO missed its last seven shots from the field as the Govs put some breathing room between the two sides.

"It's frustrating because we know we can make [the shots]," Mitchell said. "We need the shots to fall, and they don't fall. We all have got to just fight through the frustration during the game."

Now, however, Southeast has a second chance to leave the frustration behind.

Austin Peay15122720--74

AUSTIN PEAY (74) -- Beth Rates 18, Tearra Banks 21, Keisha Gregory 12, Falon Baker 14, April Rivers 3, Brianne Alexander 5, Jacey Scott 1. FG 26-55, FT 19-24, F 12. (3-pointers: Gregory 2-3, Baker 1-6. Fouled out: None.)

SOUTHEAST MISSOURI STATE (64) -- Mandy Madden 4, Bri Mitchell 23, Adrianna Murphy 9, Dolapo Balogun 6, Ashton Luttrull 11, Iyanna McCurdy 2, Deja Jones 9. FG 23-70, 14-18, F 19. (3-pointers: Luttrull 3-9, Murphy 1-2. Fouled out: Jones.)

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