RICHMOND, Ind. — For the first 16 minutes of Tuesday night’s game at Indiana University East, the University of Rio Grande men’s basketball team went toe-to-toe with one of the top teams in the country.
But the No. 2-ranked Red Wolves closed the first half on an 11-2 run to open up a 16-point halftime cushion and things continued to spiral downhill after the intermission.
IU East shot 65 percent from the floor in the second half and just under 60 percent for the game, cruising to a 91-66 rout of the RedStorm in River States Conference action at the Student Events & Activities Center.
The Red Wolves remained perfect in eight all-time meetings with Rio, improving to 25-2 overall and 14-0 in league play with a 19th consecutive victory.
The win also gave IUE the RSC’s East Division title.
Rio Grande, which lost for a sixth straight time, slipped to 9-18 overall and 4-10 in league play with the loss.
The RedStorm trail Carlow University by 1-1/2 games with three games remaining for the fourth and final postseason berth out of the league’s East Division. The two meet in what could be a winner-move-on, loser-go-home matchup on Feb. 17 in Pittsburgh in the regular season finale for both teams.
Rio trailed just 31-24 following a three-pointer by freshman Trey Kelley (Minford, OH) with 4:07 remaining in the first half, but the Red Wolves’ late surge produced a 42-26 cushion at the intermission.
The RedStorm got no closer the rest of the night.
The Red Wolves opened the second half on a 6-2 run to push their lead to 20 points, a free throw by IUE’s Nate Niehoff extended the advantage to 30 points, 66-36, with 12:13 left and a trifecta by Charles Peterson less than a minute later gave the hosts their largest lead of the night at 71-36.
Eleven different players scored for IUE, which hit 17 of its 26 shots in the second half, including a 12-for-16 showing from two-point range.
Lucas Huffman led a quintet of double-digit scorers in the victory with a game-high 16 points. He also finished with a game-best seven assists.
Bishop Smith added 15 points off the bench for the Red Wolves, while Jaylen McKay had 12 points and three blocked shots and the duo of Peterson and Keating Rombach finished with 11 points each.
Aaron Thomas also had a game-high 10 rebounds in the winning effort.
Kelley and sophomore Stanley Christian (Norfolk, VA) led Rio Grande with 12 points, while junior Abe Eze (Lagos, Nigeria) finished with 11 points. Christian and sophomore Greg Wallace (Montego Bay, Jamaica) had a team-high five rebounds apiece in the loss.
Senior guard Will Hill (Worthington, OH), the RedStorm’s leading scorer for the season at 23.3 ppg, finished 0-for-12 from the floor – 0-for-5 from three-point range – and had just four points.
Hill’s four points represent his lowest single-game output since becoming a full-time starter last season. He did hand out a team-high four assists.
Rio Grande returns to action on Saturday when it hosts Ohio Christian University for Senior Day at the Newt Oliver Arena. Hill, Devon Price (Pickerington, OH) and Kenny Council (Jacksonville, FL) will be honored in pre-game ceremonies.
Tipoff is set for 3 p.m.
Randy Payton is the Sports Information Director at the University of Rio Grande.