PORTSMOUTH, Ohio — For all but eight minutes of Tuesday night’s matchup between the University of Rio Grande and Shawnee State University, it was your typical knockdown, drag out, close-to-the-vest meeting between long-time rivals.
But those eight minutes – and some rather lopsided free throw totals – were more than enough to sink the RedStorm when all was said and done.
The Bears opened up a big lead by outscoring their guests 22-4 over the final four minutes of the first half and first four minutes of the second half, but had to withstand a furious Rio rally before posting an eventual 96-82 win in non-conference men’s basketball action at Waller Gymnasium.
Shawnee State, which finished off a regular season sweep of the RedStorm, improved to 12-11 with a second straight victory.
Rio Grande slipped to 9-16 with a fourth straight loss.
The RedStorm found themselves locked in a 32-all deadlock with the Bears following a jumper by senior Will Hill (Worthington, OH) with 4:24 left in the first half, but Shawnee scored eight of the final 10 points in the stanza to grab a 42-34 lead at the intermission.
The Bears then scored 12 of the first 14 points in the second half to take a commanding 54-36 advantage after a three-pointer by EJ Onu with 16:20 left in the game.
SSU continued to pull away and grabbed its largest lead of the night, 76-55, after a pair of free throws by Jayllen Carter with 7:24 remaining, setting the stage for the Rio rally.
The RedStorm sliced the deficit to 82-75 with 1:53 left to play after a pair of free throws by Hill and – after a timeout – came up with a steal on Shawnee’s ensuing inbounds play, but a layup attempt by senior Devon Price (Pickerington, OH) which could’ve brought Rio within five was off the mark.
The Bears rebounded Price’s miss and scored on the other end to push the lead back to nine with 1:31 remaining and Rio got no closer than eight points the rest of the way.
The RedStorm finished with three more overall field goals (30-27) and one more three-point goal (8-7) than SSU, but was overwhelmed at the free throw line.
Rio finished 14-for-19 at the charity stripe, while the Bears were a whopping 35-for-43 at the line.
The two teams were whistled for 53 combined fouls, including five technical fouls. Rio sophomore Stanley Christian (Norfolk, VA) and Carter received two technicals each, meaning that both will be suspended for each of their team’s next game.
The night also included a pair of incidents involving spectators, resulting in the ejection of two Shawnee State fans.
Hill led Rio Grande with a game-high 32 points and four steals, while Price had 12 points to go along with a team-high six rebounds and a game-best four assists.
Senior Kenny Council (Jacksonville, FL) also had 10 points in a losing cause for the RedStorm.
Carter had 14 of his team-high 18 points for the Bears in the second half and finished 10-for-11 at the free throw line.
Rio Grande transfer Matt Rhodes led four other Shawnee players in double figures with 17 points, while Onu had 14 points, Frederick Moore netted 11 points and Tamal Watkins tossed in 10 points.
Moore also had a game-high eight rebounds for the Bears, while Watkins had four assists and four steals.
Shawnee shot 56 percent from the floor in the second half (14-for-25) and finished at 51.9 percent (27-for-52) for the game.
The contest featured seven ties and 10 lead changes.
Rio Grande is scheduled to return to action on Saturday when West Virginia University-Tech visits for River States Conference play. Tipoff is set for 3 p.m.
Randy Payton is the Sports Information Director at the University of Rio Grande.