LEBANON, Tenn. — Chris Johnson came off the bench to score 20 points and lead fourth-seeded St. Catharine College past No. 5 seed University of Rio Grande, 91-74, in the quarterfinal round of the 2014 Mid-South Conference Men’s Basketball Championships presented by GoJohnnyGo 5K-10K Run-Walk, Thursday evening, at Cumberland University’s Dallas Floyd Recreation Center.
The Patriots, who improved to 18-11 with the victory, will face top-seeded University of Pikeville - a 78-72 winner over No. 8 seed Lindsey Wilson on Thursday - in Saturday afternoon’s semifinal round at 3 p.m. EST.
Rio Grande, which suffered its seventh straight loss, finished 16-14 in what was the RedStorm’s final men’s basketball game as a member of the MSC. The school will join the NAIA Division II Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (KIAC) beginning next season.
Rio committed a season-high 27 turnovers in the loss, 18 of which were the result of steals by the Patriots - a figure which also represented a single-game high for RedStorm opponents this season.
“It’s hard to beat anybody when you turn it over that many times,” said Rio Grande head coach Ken French. “My heart breaks for Jermaine Warmack, who’s one of our two seniors. He had seven of those turnovers and you could add up the number he had in any seven-game stretch this season and it wouldn’t have been that many. Give St. Catharine credit. They came out and played, they pressured us and we didn’t handle it.”
Johnson, who entered the game averaging just 7.5 points per game, was one of five St. Catharine players to finish in double figures.
Raymon Austin scored 17 points, including 14 in the second half, while Omar Skinner finished with 16 points to go along with a game-high six assists, five steals and two blocked shots. William Tolefree added 12 points and a team-high seven rebounds, while Taron Franklin netted 10 points.
The Patriots trailed only once, 2-0, after an offensive rebound and stickback by Rio Grande sophomore guard D.D. Joiner (Columbus, OH) just 1:20 into the contest, but a conventional three-pount play by Austin 20 seconds later gave SCC a lead it would never relinquish.
The Patriots twice led by as many as 12 points in the first half before settling for six-point advantage, 41-35, at the intermission.
St. Catharine, which shot 52.5 percent (31-for-59) for the game, scored the first six points of the second half to again enjoy a 12-point cushion and Rio Grande got no closer than nine points the rest of the way.
The Patriots’ biggest lead of the night was 17 points and came with just 1:05 remaining when a dunk by Skinner made it 89-72.
Rio Grande actually shot a respectable 41.4 percent from the field (24-for-58) and outrebounded SCC, 38-30, but couldn’t overcome their flurry of miscues, which surpassed the previous season-high of 23 turnovers set - ironically enough - in a win over St. Catharine on Jan. 16 at the Newt Oliver Arena.
Senior guard Ricky Tisdale (Bolivar, TN) scored a career-high 24 points in his final collegiate appearance, while junior forward Josh Reagan (Cleveland, OH) had 19 points and a game-high 14 rebounds. Joiner and Warmack (Orange, NJ) added 13 and 12 points, respectively, in a losing cause.
“This group battled all year long, we just ran out of it down the stretch,” said French, whose team was ranked 14th nationally and tied for second in the MSC at the midway point of the season. “I don’t think I did a very good job for them going down the stretch and I apologized to them for it. We just have to build on the positives and try to move forward. These guys put our program back on the right track as we move back to NAIA Division II and into a new league next season.”
Randy Payton is the Sports Information Director for the University of Rio Grande.