RIO GRANDE, Ohio — Just hours after learning they’d both earned first team all-conference honors, Sydney Holden and Alexis Payne helped the University of Rio Grande earn an opportunity for redemption.
Holden had a game-high 19 points, 15 rebounds and five assists, while Payne added 17 points and eight rebounds of her own in the RedStorm’s 80-63 win over Brescia University, Wednesday night, in the quarterfinal round of the River States Conference Women’s Basketball Tournament at the Newt Oliver Arena.
Rio Grande, ranked No. 22 nationally and the tourney’s top seed out of the league’s East Division, improved to 28-3 with the victory.
The win allowed the RedStorm to set a new program record for wins in a season, surpassing the previous record of 27 established in 1994 and then equaled in 2000.
The victory also sends head coach David Smalley’s squad into the tourney’s semifinal round where it will host West Virginia University-Tech on Saturday at 2 p.m.
WVU-Tech, the East Division’s No.3 seed, ousted West Division No. 2 Indiana University Southeast, 70-59, in another of Wednesday’s quarterfinal matchups.
The Golden Bears and Rio split their two regular season meetings. Tech ended the RedStorm’s program-record 22-game winning streak with a 76-58 win in Rio Grande on Feb. 3.
“If they’ve forgotten about that game, we’re going to reacquaint them with it,” Smalley said of his team. “But I’d like to think if they’ve got any competitive bones in their bodies, they’ll be fired up for a chance to redeem themselves.”
Brescia (12-19), the No. 4 seed from the West Division, never led in Wednesday’s quarterfinal, but the Bearcats proved to be far stingier than they were in a 90-45 loss at home to the RedStorm on Jan.4 in Owensboro, Ky.
Rio Grande extended a seven-point lead at the end of the first quarter to 14 points – 43-29 – by halftime and to as many as 23 points, 59-36, following a bucket by sophomore Kamryn Conaway with 3:18 left in the third period.
The Bearcats roared back, though, and twice pulled to within 10 points in the final stanza, including 70-60 after a steal and layup by Le’Onzerrae Grubbs with 5:24 remaining in the contest.
However, Rio finally managed to settle the issue once and for all with a 10-0 run over the next four minutes.
“That’s kinda how we roll,” said Smalley. “Brescia didn’t quit. We’d get up, then we’d relax and here they’d come. We had some turnovers that helped them do that. But at this point, you just want to survive and advance and we were able to do that without some of kids having the kind of night that they’re capable of.”
Holden and Payne didn’t fit that mold.
Holden, a sophomore from Wheelersburg, Ohio, was credited with six of Rio’s 25 turnovers, but was 6-for-10 from the field – including 5-for-7 from three-point range and scored 11 of her points after halftime. Her 15 rebounds represented a new career-high and the five assists were one off her season-best total.
Payne, a senior from Deep Water, W.Va., was 7-for-13 from the floor and six of her rebounds came after the intermission.
“I thought Sydney played well – we didn’t take her out very much – and Alexis did a nice job with the advantage we had inside,” Smalley said. “And we had some kids come off the bench, do some nice things and pick up the slack.”
Ten of the 12 players who saw action for the RedStorm scored at least two points.
Rio shot 45 percent overall (29-for-64) and 50 percent from three-point range (9-for-18), while holding a 52-30 edge in rebounding.
Brescia shot just 34.9 percent overall (22-for-63) and was 5-for-25 from three-point range (20%).
Kelsey Kirkpatrick led the Bearcats with 16 points and two blocked shots, while Cassidy Moss added 14 points, five rebounds, three assists and four steals in a losing cause.
Grubbs also reached double figures for Brescia with 13 points and Catherine Dunn tied Moss for team honors with rebounds.
Randy Payton is the Sports Information Director at the University of Rio Grande.