NEW ALBANY, Ind. — Even when they’ve come up short in the end, the University of Rio Grande men’s basketball team — more often than not of late — has made the opposition earn everything it gets.
Such was the case again on Wednesday night in what turned out to be the 2016-17 season finale for head coach Ken French’s squad.
Indiana University-Southeast used an 11-0 run midway through the second half to pull away from the upset-minded RedStorm, and posted a 93-79 win in the quarterfinal round of the River States Conference Men’s Basketball Tournament at the Activities Building.
The Grenadiers, ranked 18th in NAIA Division II and the tourney’s top seed from the RSC’s West Division, improved to 23-5 with their fifth straight victory and 10th win in their last 11 outings.
IU-Southeast advanced to Saturday’s semifinal round where it hosted 20th-ranked West Virginia University-Tech, which ousted Asbury University in another of Wednesday night’s quarterfinal tilts.
Rio Grande, which had a modest two-game winning streak snapped, closed its season at 13-17.
The RedStorm battled their hosts tooth-and-nail for the first 30 minutes in a contest which featured two ties and eight lead changes.
Rio trailed by as many as 11 points late in the opening half, but used a 15-0 run over a span of just two-and-a-half minutes to grab a lead of their own — before settling for a 47-all deadlock at the intermission.
The RedStorm led twice inside the opening two minutes of the second stanza — and trailed by just four points, 60-56, after a three-pointer by senior Corey Cruse with 12:47 left in the game.
The Grenadiers responded, though, with 11 consecutive points to take — at the time — their largest lead of the night, 71-56, after a layup by Jamie Johnson with 8:58 remaining in the contest.
IU-S eventually built its cushion to as many as 17 points on two occasions in the final five minutes, while Rio got no closer than nine points, 88-79, after junior Will Hill nailed three free throws with 1:27 left to play.
Johnson led six Grenadiers in double figures with 25 points, going 10-for-18 from the field overall.
He also had a game-high three steals.
Robert Sawyer and Demetrius Stanton netted 14 points in the winning effort, while Devon White had 12 points and the duo of Joe Ferree and Joe Jackson had 11 points each.
Jackson also had nine rebounds and five assists.
Tyler Landry pulled down a game-high 10 rebounds for the IU-S, which enjoyed a whopping 44-18 edge on the boards while also shooting 54.7 percent (35-for-64) for the game.
Hill scored a career-high 35 points to pace Rio, including four three-point goals and a 17-for-18 showing at the free throw line.
He also led the RedStorm with six rebounds, four assists and a pair of steals.
Cruse had 12 of his 21 points in the first half, when Rio shot a sizzling 68-percent (17-for-25) from the floor.
The RedStorm connected on just 25-percent (7-for-28) of their second-half field-goal attempts, though, and were outscored 56-30 in the paint.
Wednesday’s loss marked the final collegiate contest for Cruse and fellow seniors Josh Thompson and Demarco Washington.
Randy Payton is the Sports Information Director for The University of Rio Grande