NEW ALBANY, Ind. — After posting a pair of narrow wins in each of their last two visits to Indiana University Southeast’s Student Activities Building, the University of Rio Grande finally ran out of luck.
Two would-be game-winning three-point attempts by the RedStorm in the final seconds were off the mark, allowing the host Grenadiers to escape with a heart-stopping 96-95 win, Saturday afternoon, in the semifinal round of the River States Conference Women’s Basketball Championship.
IU Southeast, the tourney’s No. 1 seed from the league’s West Division, improved to 20-11 with the win — just their second in eight all-time meetings with Rio Grande.
By virtue of the victory, the Grenadiers will host Ohio Christian University — a winner over Indiana University Kokomo in Saturday’s other semifinal — in Tuesday night’s tournament championship game.
Rio Grande, the East Division No. 2 seed, finished it season at 19-13 with the loss.
The RedStorm coughed up a 12-point first quarter lead and eventually found themselves trailing by 10 points, 80-70, after a jumper in the lane by Lauren Lambdin with 8:49 left in the game.
But Rio roared back over the next 4-1/2 minutes with an 18-8 run which culminated with a driving layup by senior Sydney Holden (Wheelersburg, OH) that forged an 88-all tie with 4:18 remaining in the contest.
Lambdin gave the Grenadiers the lead for good with a three-pointer with 3:26 left and added another trifecta on IUS’ ensuing possession to make it 94-88 with 2:58 remaining.
The deficit still stood at six, 96-90, when Holden drilled a three-pointer with 2:17 left to slice the deficit in half and a bucket off the rebound of missed three-pointer by junior Chyna Chambers (Columbus, OH) from freshman Reagan Willingham (Asheville, OH) with 51 seconds remaining made it a one-point game.
Lambdin misfired on a three-pointer on Southeast’s ensuing possession with 27 seconds left, but Natalie Fichter came away with an offensive rebound to keep the ball in the hands of the home team.
Lambdin let go of another shot with 11 seconds remaining which Holden blocked and Rio sophomore Avery Harper (Seaman, OH) rebounded.
Freshman Kaylie Apperson (McConnelsville, OH) put a would-be game-winning trifecta with four seconds left, but Willingham pulled down the miss and the ball eventually found its way back into the hands of Apperson, who let go once again as time expired — again unsuccessfully.
Rio Grande, which tied a season-high with 15 three-point goals in Wednesday night’s quarterfinal round win over Asbury University, finished just 8-for-30 from distance in the loss.
Apperson and Willingham, who combined for 11 of the RedStorm’s 15 treys on Wednesday, went just 2-for-15 from beyond the arc against the Grenadiers.
Rio Grande had one less three-pointer than IU Southeast, but had four more overall field goals (38-34) than it host.
The difference came at the free throw line, where the Grenadiers went 19-for-23 and the RedStorm was 11-for-12. Rio had just one attempt from the charity stripe in the second half.
Ariana Sandefur led five double-digit scorers for IU Southeast with 23 points. She also had four assists, three blocked shots and two steals.
Lambdin and Fichter had 20 and 19 points, respectively, off the bench, while Maddie Knight netted 12 points and Hannah Coleman contributed 11 points and 10 rebounds in the winning effort.
The Grenadiers shot 58.6 percent for the game (34-for-58), including a 15-for-25 showing (60 percent) in the second half.
Holden scored a game-high 27 points for Rio Grande in the final game of her collegiate career, while also grabbing seven rebounds, handing out five assists and blocking three shots.
Harper equaled a season- and career-high with 24 points and also had 10 rebounds, while freshman Lexi Woods (Waverly, OH) had 15 points and freshman Hailey Jordan (Columbus, OH) netted 12 points.
Chambers handed out a game-high seven assists in the loss.
Randy Payton is the Sports Information Director at the University of Rio Grande.