MOUNT VERNON, Ohio — Slow starts plagued the University of Rio Grande men’s basketball team in each of its two season-opening losses last weekend.
Unfortunately, a quick start on Friday night didn’t do the RedStorm much better.
Head coach Ken French’s squad raced to a double-digit lead over Mount Vernon Nazarene University just over five minutes into the game, but watched the host Cougars rally to build an 11-point halftime lead and continue to pull away for a 92-73 in the opening round of the MVNU Homecoming Classic at Ariel Arena.
Rio Grande (0-3) will face Cardinal Stretch (Wis.) – a 71-54 loser to Shawnee State University in Friday’s first game – in the consolation game of the tourney on Saturday at 1 p.m.
Mount Vernon Nazarene (2-1) will play the Bears in the title game at 5 p.m.
Rio Grande found itself with a 16-5 lead after a jumper by sophomore Stanley Christian (Norfolk, VA) with 14:46 remaining in the first half, but MVNU countered with a 14-2 run of its own and grabbed a 19-18 advantage on a steal and bucket by Jacob Paul with 8:39 left before the intermission.
The Cougars continued to pull away, leading by as many as 12 points late in the half before settling on a 41-30 cushion at the break.
Rio Grande twice pulled within six points in the opening stages of the second stanza, but got no closer the rest of the way.
Mount Vernon Nazarene’s biggest lead of the night was 27 points, after a pair of Javon Knox free throws made it 88-61 with 2:59 left to play.
Free throws were the predominant theme of the night. The two team were whistled for 55 combined fouls and attempted a combined 70 free throws – 32 by the RedStorm and 38 by the Cougars.
Senior guard Will Hill (Worthington, OH) led a quartet of double-figure scorers for Rio Grande with 22 points – including a 14-for-14 outing at the charity stripe.
Junior Abe Eze (Lagos, Nigeria) had 15 points and five rebounds, while Christian and freshman Trey Kelley (Minford, OH) netted 12 points each.
The RedStorm shot just 39.6 percent from the floor, was outrebounded 32-20 and committed 22 turnovers.
Jay Joseph had a game-high 24 points to pace MVNU, while Joe Schmitz had 16, Brett Vipperman finished with 13 and Knox netted 11.
Joseph, Schmitz and Emmett Fraley had six rebounds each for the Cougars, who hit a blistering 60.9 percent (14-for-23) from the field in the second half and an even 50 percent (26-for-52) for the game.
Randy Payton is the Sports Information Director at the University of Rio Grande.