PITTSBURGH, Pa. — Perhaps, given the way that many of their previous 29 outings had turned out, the University of Rio Grande men’s basketball team shouldn’t have been taken by surprise with the way Saturday afternoon’s regular season finale against Carlow University played out.
Still, it didn’t make another narrow loss any easier on the RedStorm.
The host Celtics trailed for much of the first half, but grabbed a lead just before halftime and held on down the stretch for a 76-70 Senior Day win at Oakland Catholic High School’s Donahue Pavilion.
Carlow, which suffered a 32-point loss at Rio in early December, improved to 6-20 overall and 6-11 in league play with the victory.
The win also secured the No. 4 seed from RSC’s East Division and gave the fourth-year program its first post-season tournament berth.
The Celtics will face West Division champion Indiana University Southeast in the quarterfinal round of the RSC Tournament on Wednesday, at 7:30 p.m., at the Student Activities Center in New Albany, Ind.
Rio Grande, which lost for the eight time in nine outings, finished its season at 10-20 overall and 5-12 in the RSC.
“Today was one of those days where it just wasn’t meant to be,” said Rio head coach Ken French. “They made some plays that we didn’t. They hit their free throws down the stretch. Give them credit – today, they were the better team.”
The RedStorm led by as many as five points on three different occasions in the first half, including 30-25 after a bucket by sophomore Greg Wallace (Montego Bay, Jamaica) with 4:25 remaining before halftime.
Carlow rallied, though, scoring 11 of the final 13 points in the half to take a 36-32 advantage at the intermission.
Rio grabbed the lead back twice in the first four minutes of the second half – 39-38 following a jumper by senior Will Hill (Worthington, OH) with 17:27 left to play and 41-40 after freshman Jaxon Burgess (Louisville, KY) hit one of two free throws with 16:18 remaining – but a layup by Jamil Tarver on the Celtics’ ensuing possession following the Burgess free throw put the home team in front to stay.
Carlow built a seven point cushion, 49-42, after a pair of Tony Acrie free throws with 13:03 left, but watched the RedStorm slice the deficit back to one, 61-60, after a basket by sophomore Stanley Christian (Norfolk, VA) with 3:10 remaining.
However, the Celtics settled the issue once and for all with one last surge, taking their largest lead of the day, 73-63, after two more free throws by Acrie with 26.7 seconds left.
Charlie Scharbo had 18 points to lead four double-digit scorers for Carlow. Zach Bryan added 17 in the winning effort, while Tarver and Rece Henneman scored 10 points each.
Scharbo and Miles Sunder had seven rebounds each for the Celtics, while Bryan handed out four assists.
Carlow was out rebounded 40-30, but shot 47 percent from the field (25-for-53) and committed just 11 turnovers.
Christian and Hill led Rio Grande with 21 and 20 points, respectively, while Wallace had a game- and career-high 14 rebounds.
The RedStorm shot just 39.7 percent overall (25-for-63) and 21 percent from three-point range (4-for-19).
Saturday’s game marked the final game in a Rio uniform for the senior trio of Hill, Devon Price (Pickerington, OH) and Kenny Council (Jacksonville, FL).
Randy Payton is the Sports Information Director for the University of Rio Grande.