RIO GRANDE, Ohio — You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who’d argue that, offensively, the University of Rio Grande women’s basketball team isn’t fun to watch.
After all, the RedStorm rank third among the 143 schools in NAIA Division II by averaging just over 89 points per game.
The team’s performance defensively — particularly of late — has left a lot to be desired, though.
And that inability — or sometimes apparent lack of desire — to slow down the opposition now has head coach David Smalley’s squad battling to not only host a post-season tournament game, but to make the tourney altogether.
Ohio Christian University bolstered its hopes of advancing to the post-season and avenged an earlier loss at home to Rio Grande by outgunning the RedStorm, 114-109, Saturday afternoon, in River States Conference action at the Newt Oliver Arena.
The Trailblazers improved to 17-9 overall and 7-6 in league play, pulling to within one game of Rio for second place in the RSC East Division standings.
The RedStorm, who had won three straight following a loss to division-leading West Virginia University-Tech on Jan. 16, have now lost three of four games since. The only win in the span was a forfeit victory over now-defunct Cincinnati Christian University.
Saturday’s loss not only leaves Rio just one game in front of OCU for second place in the division and the opportunity to host a first-round tourney game, the RedStorm are just 1-1/2 games ahead of Point Park and two games clear of Indiana University East for the fourth and final tourney bid in the division.
Saturday’s game was the second-highest scoring game in NAIA Division II this season, topped only by the 235 combined points in Olivet Nazarene’s (Ill.) 132-103 win over Lincoln (Ill.) on Oct. 25, 2019.
The 114 points allowed were the most by a Rio team since a 112-91 loss at Brescia University on Feb. 20, 2016 and leaves the RedStorm ranked 140th in the country in scoring defense at 81.8 points per game.
Rio’s 109 points scored were the program’s highest total in a loss since dropping a 106-96 decision to IU East on Feb. 7, 2017.
In a game that featured 10 ties and six lead changes, Ohio Christian enjoyed its biggest lead of the day, 35-25, after a three-pointer by Staci Pertuset with 7:34 left in the first half, but Rio rallied and forged a 45-all tie after sophomore Avery Harper (Seaman, OH) connected on one of two free throw attempts with 1:39 left before halftime.
The RedStorm trailed by two at the intermission, but eventually went in front, 55-54, when freshman Samaria Rodgers-Gossett (Columbus, OH), banked in a three-point goal with 7:45 remaining in the third stanza.
Rio’s lead grew to as many as six points on two occasions later in the quarter, but OCU sliced the deficit down to two, 75-73, setting the stage for a wild fourth period which saw the teams combine for 75 points.
The Trailblazers turned a five-point deficit into a four-point lead before the RedStorm forced the game’s 10th — and final — tie at 92-92 on a runner in the lane by freshman Lexi Woods (Waverly, OH) with 4:17 left to play.
Ohio Christian countered, though, with a layup by Carolane Cox on its ensuing possession and never trailed again en route to just its second win in 12 all-time meetings with Rio Grande.
OCU even equaled its largest lead of 10 points with 16 seconds remaining when Pertuset capped off a huge day individually by connecting on a pair of free throws to make it 114-104.
Pertuset finished with a career-high 40 points in the win, to go along with eight rebounds, a game-high five steals and four assists. She was one of six players to finish in double figures for the Trailblazers.
Helaina Limas had 19 points in the winning effort, while Cox finished with 18 points and nine assists and Rachel Gillum tallied 11 points, 10 rebounds and a pair of blocked shots.
Logan Stidham and Makayla DeArmond added 10 points each for OCU, which shot 63.6 percent from the field (21-for-33) in the second half and 54.5 percent for the game (42-for-77).
Buried in all the gaudy numbers that accompanied the disappointing loss was the third triple-double of the season by Rio Grande senior Sydney Holden.
The Wheelersburg, Ohio native finished with 25 points, 14 rebounds and 13 assists for her fourth career triple-double and the fifth such performance in program history.
Ironically, the only player in all of NAIA — Division I or II — with more triple-doubles this season than Holden is Pertuset, who has four. Stephanie Soares of The Master’s (Calif.) also has three to lead Division I.
Woods led Rio with 28 points, while freshman Hailey Jordan (Columbus, OH) had 21 points and a pair of blocked shots and Harper narrowly missed a double-double with 13 points and nine rebounds.
The RedStorm finished 40-for-87 from the floor (46%) and enjoyed a 52-37 edge in rebounding, but connected on just 22 of their 34 free throw tries (64.7%).
Rio returns to action on Tuesday night when it hosts Point Park for a 5:30 p.m. tipoff.
Randy Payton is the Sports Information Director at the University of Rio Grande.