NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Austin Peay coach Carrie Daniels spent much of the season tossing and turning at night, frustrated over her Lady Govs' roller-coaster performances.
Turns out a 31-point loss on the road to Eastern Illinois provided all the motivation her team needed.
Nicole Jamen led five Lady Govs in double figures with 19 points, and Austin Peay beat Eastern Illinois 69-60 for the Ohio Valley Conference tournament championship Saturday and a second straight automatic berth in the NCAA tournament. The Lady Govs (15-17) clinched their seventh OVC tournament title, second only to Tennessee Tech's league-best nine.
Since losing 78-47 at Eastern Illinois on Feb. 25, the Lady Govs have won four straight.
"That was really embarrassing," junior Ashley Herring said. "We weren't ready for that game at all. I think that was just a light bulb, like, we can't come into a game not prepared. That was a big factor of realizing how we have to start from the jump because we were digging holes."
Not on Saturday.
The closest the Panthers got this time was a tie at 2 in the opening minute before falling behind by as much as 17. An 8-2 spurt by Eastern Illinois pulled the Panthers within 30-22 at halftime. Ta'Kenya Nixon's jumper in the paint got them to 40-39 with 12:19 left.
Austin Peay reeled off 12 straight points to rebuild its lead back to double figures as Herring hit a jumper, then blocked Dominique Sims' layup and grabbed the rebound. Hanley hit a free throw and then blocked a jumper by Nixon. Rayner hit a couple of jumpers, her second pushing the lead back to 52-39 with 8:06 remaining.
"Maybe we got worn out with the energy that it took to get it to that point," Eastern Illinois coach Brady Sallee said. "It's tough when you dig yourself a hole like that, not only to dig your way out but to finish off what you're trying to do."
Eastern Illinois tried to fight back once again and whittled Austin Peay's lead to 66-60 with 29 seconds left when Herring fouled out, before running out of time.
The Panthers (23-10) came in having won the regular-season title and playing in the tournament championship for the third straight season in a rematch of last year's title game when Austin Peay needed double overtime to win.
"This is the irony of college basketball," Sallee said. "The best teams don't always win, the No. 1 seed doesn't always win. That's why everybody tunes in and watches these things. ... It's disappointing tonight, but we have to wake up and get going and be ready to play another game [in the NIT]. That's what we'll do."
Herring had 15 points for Austin Peay, Jasmine Rayner and Whitney Hanley each added 12 and Brooke Faulkner scored 10.
Nixon led Eastern Illinois with 22 points and Maggie Kloak had 14.
The Lady Govs outrebounded Eastern Illinois 47-40 and held the Panthers to 29.5 percent shooting for the game. Jamen had 11 rebounds, while Rayner grabbed 10.
It was a big difference from a team that took then-No. 21 Pittsburgh to overtime in December before losing 76-75 and then was routed 87-41 at Xavier in the next game. But the Lady Govs went 11-7 in league play to earn the No. 3 seed.
Daniels, who led Austin Peay to the NCAA tournament as a player in the 1990s, has coached her alma mater to two straight NCAA berths. She got emotional as she recalled how difficult this season was for her.
"I always believed in this team and knew the talent that we had. We didn't always perform the best throughout the season, but I never gave up on them," she said. "They turned it on at the right time."