FORT WAYNE, Ind. — In his 29-plus years as the women’s basketball head coach at the University of Rio Grande, David Smalley has enjoyed his fair share of memorable victories.
None of his nearly 600 career triumphs, though, had come against a Top 10 foe.
Until Saturday afternoon, that is.
Smalley’s RedStorm rallied from 11 points down late in the third quarter and held on down the stretch for an 85-79 win over previously-unbeaten and No. 9-ranked Indiana Tech in non-conference women’s basketball action at the Schaefer Center.
Rio Grande won for the 11th time in as many outings this season, while also avenging a 16-point loss to the host Warriors in the opening round of last season’s NAIA national tournament.
Indiana Tech, which surrendered its most points in a game since an 88-81 loss at Madonna (Mich.) on Nov. 16, 2016, dropped to 9-1 with the loss.
“My memory gets worse and worse each day, but I don’t ever recall us beating a team ranked that high,” said Smalley, whose team ran its record to 4-0 against opponents from the Wolverine-Hooiser Athletic Conference. “But what a great team effort. We got into a little foul trouble, especially late in the game, but we had some kids come in off the bench and really give us a lift. I’m awfully proud of this group.”
Prior to Saturday, the last time that Rio Grande knocked off an opponent ranked in the Top 15 came on February 25, 2013 — a 73-66 victory at home against then-No. 14 Shawnee State University.
A post-game check of the record book appeared unnecessary, though, after a layup by Emma Tuominen gave Indiana Tech its largest lead of the day, 62-51, with 42 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
But the RedStorm scored the final seven points of the period to close the gap to four and a layup by senior Chyna Chambers (Columbus, OH) with 7:54 remaining capped the comeback and forged a 64-all tie.
Just over two minutes later, a three-point goal by junior Ella Skeens (Chillicothe, OH) gave Rio a 67-66 lead — a lead it would never relinquish.
A jumper by freshman Azyiah Williams (Ripley, OH) with 4:59 remaining extended the lead to three, 69-66, and the RedStorm maintained an advantage between three and six points until a pair of free throws by senior Avery Harper (Seaman, OH) with eight seconds left produced Rio’s biggest cushion of the day at 83-76.
Junior Hailey Jordan (Columbus, OH) led a quartet of double-digit scorers for Rio Grande with 17 points before fouling out late, while Chambers scored nine of her 14 points in the fourth quarter pull-away.
Skeens tallied 14 points of her own to go along with a solid all-around outing that also included eight rebounds and three steals, while Harper had 12 points and a team-high nine rebounds off the bench.
Smalley also pointed to the play of Williams and junior Mickale Bates (Pickerington, OH), who combined for 17 points in 28 minutes of playing time off the bench. The duo went 4-for-6 from the field, 9-for-12 at the foul line and did not commit a turnover.
“We got big games from a lot of our regulars, particularly Chyna in the fourth quarter, but I thought Mickale was our real sparkplug. She and Azyiah both played really well,” Smalley said. “The girls stepped up. This was a big win for our program.”
Rio Grande shot 42 percent from the floor for the game (27-for-64), while outscoring the Warriors at the free throw line, 29-19, and outrebounding the hosts, 40-36.
The RedStorm also had just eight turnovers.
Kyra Whitaker had a game-high 24 points and three blocked shots for Indiana Tech, while Taya Andrews contributed 23 points and five assists and Tuominen finished with 16 points and a game-best 12 rebounds.
All three were among the four Warriors who fouled out down the stretch.
The two teams were whistled for a combined 54 personal fouls and combined for 58 free throw attempts.
Rio Grande returns to action on Tuesday night when Ohio Christian University visits the Newt Oliver Arena for a River States Conference contest.
Tipoff is set for 5:30 p.m.
Randy Payton is the Sports Information Director at the University of Rio Grande.