SIOUX CITY, Iowa — At different stages over the course of its record-setting season, the University of Rio Grande women’s basketball team managed to survive the turnover bug.
But overcoming those kinds of mistakes on a national stage, more often that not, is easier said than done — a lesson the RedStorm learned the hard way on Thursday night.
Morningside College recorded 16 steals in the process of Rio’s game total of 25 turnovers, helping the 13th-ranked Mustangs gallop to a 97-69 win over the RedStorm in the opening round of the NAIA Division National Championship Tournament at the Tyson Events Center.
Morningside, the tourney’s designated host team, delighted the partisan crowd 1,890 fans by improving to 22-11 with the victory and advancing to Friday’s second round for a meeting with No. 4 Saint Xavier (Ill.) — a 67-47 winner over Tabor (Kan.) in the last of Thursday’s opening round contests.
Rio Grande, ranked 20th in the latest coaches’ Top 25 poll, finished its season at 30-4. The 30 wins represented a single-season program high.
Despite their inability to maintain control of the ball on a consistent basis, the RedStorm managed a 23-22 lead after one quarter and trailed by just five, 43-38, after a bucket by senior Alexis Payne (Deep Water, WV) with 1:34 left before the intermission.
But the Mustangs scored the final five points of the half to take a 10-point lead at the break and netted the first six points of the second half to open up a 16-point advantage with just 75 seconds gone in the third period.
Rio closed the gap to 11 points, 54-43, after a conventional three-point play by Payne just over a minute later, but never got any closer.
Morningside stretched its cushion to 21 points by the end of the third quarter and to as many as 32 points with just over a minute left to play in the game.
Madison Braun, the Great Plains Athletic Conference Player of the Year, led the Mustangs with a game-high 27 points — 20 of which came in the opening half.
She also had a game-high seven steals and tied teammate Sierra Mitchell — the GPAC Freshman of the Year — for game-high honors with four assists.
Sydney Hupp added 15 points to the winning effort, while Mitchell had 14 points and Made Maly finished with 13 points.
Rachelle House had a team-best eight rebounds for Morningside.
Payne, who played her final game in a Rio Grande uniform, finished with a team-high 21 points in the loss. She had all but three of the RedStorm’s 16 third quarter points.
Sophomore Sydney Holden (Wheelersburg, OH) added 13 points, a game-high 14 rebounds and a team-best three assists in the loss, while sophomore Kamryn Conway (Lucasville, OH) tossed in 11 points.
Freshman Chyna Chambers (Columbus, OH) also had three assists for Rio Grande, which shot just 34 percent overall (11-for-32) in the second half.
The RedStorm also went just 1-for-10 from three-point range after halftime.
The loss also kept Rio Grande winless in seven all-time national tournament appearances — four as a Division I member and now three in Division II.
Randy Payton is the Sports Information Director at the University of Rio Grande.