PORTSMOUTH, Ohio — While hunters throughout the area have spent the days leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday trying to bag a trophy deer, the University of Rio Grande men’s basketball team found itself hunting bear on Wednesday afternoon.
And as things turned out, first-year head coach Ryan Arrowood’s club was successful in their attempt.
The RedStorm rallied from a 15-point second half deficit and took the lead for good inside the final minute of a 64-61 triumph over rival Shawnee State University in non-conference action at Waller Gymnasium.
Rio Grande improved to 4-2 with a third consecutive victory, just its second in the last six meetings between the two schools and its first since a 65-59 win in Portsmouth on Jan. 31, 2017.
Shawnee State, which received votes in the preseason NAIA Top 25 Coaches’ Poll, suffered its first loss in five outings.
The Bears used a 17-3 run over the final seven minutes of the first half to open up a 39-28 halftime lead and extended their advantage to its largest point of the night, 44-29, following a jumper in the lane by Donoven Carlisle with 17:20 left in the contest.
Rio Grande still trailed by 14 points, 47-33, following a bucket by Shawnee State’s 6-foot-11 center EJ One with 15:02 remaining, but the RedStorm responded with an 18-3 run over the next seven-plus minutes and grabbed a 51-50 lead after a three-pointer by freshman Andrew Shull (Milton, WV) with 7:45 left to play.
The Bears regained the lead by scoring the next five points and found themselves up 57-54 on the heels of a jumper by Dakota Prichard with 1:46 remaining, but Rio tied the game on a trifecta by freshman Reedetris Richardson (Atlanta, GA) 17 seconds later and took the lead for good on a pair of free throws by sophomore Miroslav “Miki” Tadic (Hilversum, The Netherlands) with 58.3 seconds left.
Tadic added two more free throws with 27.2 seconds remaining to give the RedStorm a four-point lead and Shawnee State got no closer than two points the rest of the way.
The Bears did have a chance to force overtime after Rio sophomore Shiloah Blevins (South Webster, OH) missed the back end of a two-shot free throw opportunity with 3.0 seconds left, but a desperation would-be, game-tying heave by Prichard from midcourt was off the mark as time expired.
Blevins and Richardson had 14 points each to lead Rio Grande, while Tadic finished with 12. Blevins had nine of his points after halftime, while Richardson scored eight of his career-high total in the second half.
Tadic, who had six of his 12 points over the final 20 minutes, added a game-high six assists to the winning effort.
Richardson finished with a team-high six rebounds for the RedStorm and Blevins had three steals.
Rio Grande shot just 38 percent overall (21-for-55), but connected on 44.4 percent of its three-point tries (12-for-27).
Shawnee State, which shot just under 47 percent overall in the first half, hit just nine of its 31 attempts after halftime (29.0%).
The Bears were also limited to their lowest offensive output of the season and finished nearly 30 points below their 87.5 ppg average.
Onu tied a career-high with 24 points to lead all scorers, although all but four of his points came in the opening half.
James Jones, SSU’s leading scorer for the season at 24.5 ppg and the reigning Mid-South Conference Player of the Week, was limited to a season-low 14 points in the loss.
Carlisle added a game-high nine rebounds in a losing cause, while Jakiel Wells finished with a team-high five assists and three steals.
With its regularly-scheduled game at River States Conference rival West Virginia University-Tech on Dec. 5 already postponed by COVID protocols, Rio Grande’s next game is set for Dec. 12 when Point Park University visits the Newt Oliver Arena for an RSC contest.
Randy Payton is the Sports Information Director at the University of Rio Grande.