RIO GRANDE, Ohio — Kool and the Gang, an R&B band which enjoyed its heyday in the 1970s and 80s, scored their first No. 1 single with a song entitled “Celebration”.
The group – and their song blaring over the public address system – were the only things missing from Saturday afternoon’s women’s basketball game between the University of Rio Grande and Ohio Christian University.
The RedStorm celebrated the career of senior Alexis Payne in pre-game ceremonies and then celebrated a championship and a national tournament berth following a 78-63 Senior Day triumph over the Trailblazers at the Newt Oliver Arena.
Rio Grande improved to 26-2 overall and 14-1 inside the River States Conference with the win, capturing the league’s East Division title and the overall No. 1 seed in the upcoming RSC Tournament in the process.
As a result of earning the RSC’s overall regular season championship, the RedStorm also secured a berth in the NAIA Division II National Championship Tournament, which begins March 6 in Sioux City, Iowa.
Ohio Christian slipped to 10-16 overall and 3-12 in league play with the loss.
Rio jumped to a 10-point first quarter lead and extended the advantage to as many as 13 points in the second period before settling on a 11-point cushion at the intermission.
The RedStorm’s biggest lead of the day was 19 points, 49-40, following a jumper by freshman Chyna Chambers (Columbus, OH) with 4:58 left in the third quarter, but OCU sliced the deficit to nine, 53-44, after Kaylah Peele hit one of two free throw attempts with 21.8 seconds left in the stanza.
The Trailblazers hung tough and were still within 10 points, 64-54, after a bucket by Shawntell Parsons with 3:51 remaining in the game, but Rio sealed the win with a 12-4 run over the next three minutes.
Payne, a native of Deep Water, W.Va., tied her season-high and led the RedStorm with a game-high 25 points, eight rebounds, three assists and two blocked shots.
Junior Jasmine Smith (Canal Winchester, OH) finished with 20 points in the winning effort, while Chambers tossed in 15 points. Sophomore Abby Wendel (Portland, IN) added three assists and sophomore Sydney Holden (Wheelersburg, OH) finished with three steals.
Michaela Puckett led OCU with 16 points, while Chloe Baird and Staci Dinsmore added 14 and 10 points, respectively.
Dinsmore also had a team-high eight rebounds and three assists, while Baird had a game-high five steals and Parsons also had eight rebounds.
The Trailblazers shot just 25.7 percent (9-for-35) in the first half and were out rebounded 51-37.
Rio Grande returns to action on Tuesday night when it hosts Point Park University in its regular season home finale.
Tuesday’s game will also serve as a “Pink Out” in an effort to promote breast cancer awareness and the Play4Kay initiative founded by the late Kay Yow, a Hall of Fame women’s basketball coach at North Carolina State University, who lost her battle with the disease in 2009.
Tipoff is set for 5:30 p.m.
Randy Payton is the Sports Information Director at the University of Rio Grande.