RIO GRANDE, Ohio — Senior guard Shardai Morrison-Fountain scored eight of her game-high 23 points in a 14-3 second half run which helped the University of Rio Grande pull away for good and post a 75-59 win over Mount Vernon Nazarene University, Tuesday night, in women’s basketball action at the Newt Oliver Arena.
The RedStorm (1-0) built a 19-point lead in the early minutes of the second half, but the Cougars (0-1) used a 13-2 run of their own to draw within 50-42 following a Stephanie Imes free throw with 10:51 remaining in the contest.
Morrison-Fountain had a pair of field goals and was 4-for-5 at the free throw line in the RedStorm’s scoring spurt over the next five minutes, which built the lead back to 19 points, 64-45, with 5:56 left to play.
Mount Vernon Nazarene got no closer than 15 points the rest of the way and Rio enjoyed its biggest lead of the night, 67-46, following a three-pointer by freshman forward Sarah Bonar with 4:37 remaining.
Bonar finished with 17 points in her collegiate debut, while fellow freshman forward Julia Heaberlin (Ashland, KY) added 12 points off the bench in the winning effort.
“The bottom line was that we got a ‘W’,” said Rio Grande head coach David Smalley. “I thought, at times, we did some nice things. At other times…ugh. That’s going to happen, though, when you’re playing as many freshmen as we have.”
Rio Grande trailed 14-11 with 14:20 left in the first half before reeling off 10 straight points to take a 21-14 advantage following a jumper by junior guard/forward Kate Hammond with 9:58 remaining before the intermission.
MVNU, a former rival of Rio Grande’s during the days when both schools were members of the America Mideast Conference, drew to within 29-25 after a bucket by Camaranne Myles with 4:45 left before half, but Cougars went scoreless the rest of the way as the RedStorm closed the half on an 8-0 run to build a 12-point halftime lead.
That advantage grew to 19, 48-29, following a trio of free throws by Morrison-Fountain with 16:41 to play in the game and set the stage for the run by MVNU that made things interesting midway through the final stanza.
Rio Grande connected on 51.9 percent of shots overall (28-for-54), including nine three-pointers. The RedStorm did commit 23 turnovers and was outrebounded 33-24, but forced 29 MVNU turnovers - including 18 via Rio steals - to offset their own miscues and the rebounding deficit.
Morrison-Fountain also had a game-high six steals, while Bonar finished with five of her own. Freshman guard Nichole Mabry handed out a game-high four assists and sophomore forward Tinesha Taylor had five rebounds in the win.
“It was a good team effort,” Smalley said. “Shardai hit some big shots when we needed them, I was impressed with Sarah and our other freshmen in the minutes they gave us and we played pretty well defensively. We still have a lot to work on, but it’s always nice to win the first one.”
Melissa Eickholt had 15 points to pace the Cougars, who shot 44.7 percent for the game (21-for-47). Courtney Swart and Rachel Peelman had five rebounds each in a losing cause.
Rio Grande will return to action on Friday, at 6 p.m., hosting Miami-Middletown in the opening round of the Bevo Francis Tournament.