RIO GRANDE, Ohio — It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
That Charles Dickens line perfectly describes what occurred Thursday night at Newt Oliver Arena, as the University of Rio Grande women’s basketball team fumbled away a 21-point halftime lead and suffered a deflating 78-73 Mid-South Conference loss to No. 6 Georgetown College.
The loss was the fourth straight for the RedStorm (14-8 overall, 3-7 MSC) and the sixth in their last eight contests. Rio Grande finishes the month of January with a 2-6 record after a perfect 5-0 mark during the month of December.
“If you look back at the past three games, they should have all been wins for us,” Rio Grande head coach David Smalley said. “I think at times tonight we saw the ranked team being protected by the officiating and that’s unfortunate when that happens. That is not what lost us this game, however, and we shouldn’t have been in that kind of position at the end of the game. I guess the only thing Rio Grande can do to prevent being favored against is get ranked in the next poll. These kids are resiliant and they’re able to handle the stress and the frustration we’re going through. We’re going to come back from this with some energy and, while we may not play perfect, we will come back from this.”
After battling illness all week, the questions surrounding the health of freshman forward Brooke Marcum (Vinton, OH) and sophomore forward Sarah Bonar (Hartford, OH) were answered, as the duo helped spark a relentless effort on both ends of the floor that led to a 22-8 Rio Grande advantage at the 10:45 mark in the first half. Marcum was able to step out of her comfort zone and knock down a pair of shots outside of the paint to signal the rout was on in the first half.
The RedStorm kept their foot on the gas after a full timeout from Georgetown and extended the lead to 33-11 thanks to an 11-3 run led by a pair of acrobatic coast-to-coast baskets by freshman guard Sharday Baines (East Cleveland, OH).
Sophomore forward Ciara Herring (Cleveland, OH) also provide some inspired play off the bench and her aggressive attack on the offensive glass resulted in scores which seemed to catch Georgetown off guard and excite a spirited home crowd.
“Ciara may have played the best game of her career,” Smalley said. “She was perfect from the field and grabbed five rebounds for us and really gave us the punch we needed.”
With time ticking down in the half, the RedStorm got one more look to extend their improbable double-digit lead. After handling the ball out front patiently, Baines made a move towards the basket and used a staggering crossover at the free throw line to shake her defender and bury a jump shot to send Rio Grande into the locker room on the good side of a 48-27 advantage.
“I thought we played one of the best first halfs in my tenure here at Rio,” Smalley said. “We just did everything right and attacked on both ends of the floor. We switched up defenses and really had them on their heels.”
A second half surge from a veteran and sixth-ranked Georgetown squad was imminent, but perhaps it was the nature of the Tiger comeback that was so impressive.
The RedStorm held court through the first eight minutes of the half and owned a 61-42 lead with 11:51 left in the second half after back-to-back buckets from sophomore forward Harley Adler (Burton, OH).
A quick 5-0 run by Georgetown cut the RedStorm lead to 61-47 and showed the Tigers still had life, as Kourtney Tyra buried the second of her four second half three-pointers during that mini-run.
After the teams exchanged buckets over the next three minutes, freshman forward Alexis Payne (Deep Water, WV) converted on a field goal to extend the RedStorm lead to 66-54 with 7:12 left in the second half.
Unbelievably, Rio Grande’s offense went silent and did not score another point until just 1:39 left in the game, nearly a six minute drought.
After the Payne basket, Georgetown embarked on a 17-0 run fueled by five different players. A Tyra three-pointer with 2:37 left in the game gave 69-66 lead, which was their first lead since being up 3-2 just 45 seconds into the contest. When the dust settled, the Tigers owned a 71-66 advantage.
It was a Bonar basket that, mercifully, ended the run, but the pendulum was firmly sitting on the side of Georgetown at that point.
A Baines three-pointer cut the the lead to 74-71 and then a steal on the in-bounds pass by junior guard Brianna Thomas (Maplewood, NJ) would lead to an easy layup and slice the deficit to just one point with 34 seconds left in the contest.
That would be the last points the RedStorm would score, however, as Georgetown would make four free throws to end the game and crush the dreams of an upset bid by Rio Grande.
“The second half was a complete role reversal,” Smalley said. “I’ll tell you right now that it wasn’t the officiating, although I wasn’t very pleased with that either. You can’t go six minutes without scoring and expect to win. We stopped attacking and I think it’s due to us running out of energy after expending so much physically and mentally in the first half. There were critical calls made and not made at the end of the game, but that was not the reason we lost this game. Down the stretch we missed a number of easy shots that we should have converted on.”
The RedStorm would finish the game shooting 49 percent from the field (30 of 61), 23 percent from beyond the arc (3 of 13), and 83 percent from the free throw line (10 of 12), while the Tigers shot 50 percent overall (25 of 50), 46 percent from three-point land (7 of 15), and 72 percent (21 of 29) from the foul line.
To put the role-reversal into perspective, Rio Grande shot 63 percent from the field in the first half and just 34 percent in the second half. Conversely, Georgetown shot just 29 percent in the first half and then a blazing 69 percent in the second half.
Both the rebounding margin (31-29) and turnover battle (19-15) were won by Rio Grande, as they, once again, seemingly won every facet of a game except for the final score.
Leading the quartet of double-digit scorers for the RedStorm was Thomas with 19 points to go along with five assists and four steals. Herring tied a career-high with 13 points off the bench and a team-high five rebounds. Baines and Bonar rounded out the scoring with 12 points apiece.
Georgetown (15-3 overall, 9-1 MSC) only saw five players reach the scorebook and only played eight players throughout the contest. Tyra led the Tigers with 27 points and seven assists, while Andrea Howard and Devanny King chipped in with 16 points apiece. Lizza Jonas had 10 points and Jessica Foster had nine points and a team-high six rebounds to round out the Georgetown scoring.
Rio Grande returns home on Saturday afternoon when they host conference foe Cumberlands (KY) at Newt Oliver Arena for a 2 p.m. tipoff.