RIO GRANDE, Ohio — For the third time in four outings, the University of Rio Grande men’s basketball team found itself squaring off with an opponent ranked in the NAIA Division II Top 25.
And for the second time in that gauntlet-like stretch, the RedStorm found themselves murmuring the whisper of an upset.
Unfortunately, as was the case against fifth-ranked Mount Vernon Nazarene nearly two weeks ago, a surprise win was not meant to be.
Elisha Boone scored 20 of his game-high 29 points in the second half and 12th-ranked West Virginia University-Tech rallied from an eight-point halftime deficit to defeat Rio Grande, 78-73, Thursday night, in River States Conference action at the Newt Oliver Arena.
The Golden Bears improved to 15-3 overall and 6-1 in the RSC with the victory, their fifth straight triumph in the all-time series between the two programs.
The RedStorm fell to 7-12 overall and 1-5 league play with a sixth consecutive setback. Exactly one-half of the 12 losses have come by seven points or less.
Rio Grande led from the outset and closed the first half on a 6-0 run to enjoy its largest lead of the night, 36-28, at the intermission.
The cushion stood at seven points, 49-42, after a layup by junior Cameron Schreiter (Mason, OH) with 12:25 left in the game, but Tech went on a 12-3 run over the next 3:25 and took its first lead of the night, 54-52, on a pair of free throws by Boone with 9:00 remaining.
The RedStorm forged five of the game’s 10 ties over the final seven minutes, including 70-70 after a bucket by freshman Gunner Short (Catlettsburg, KY) with 1:22 remaining, but never led again.
Rio’s last hope at forcing overtime ended with a turnover that prevented a would-be, game-tying three-point attempt with 2.2 seconds left.
The Golden Bears were fouled on the ensuing inbounds play and hit two free throws to set the final score.
Tech did a substantial portion of its damage at the charity stripe, going 30-for-35 in the second half alone and finishing 36-for-47 overall (76.6 percent).
The Golden Bears had just three more overall field goal attempts (50) than they had free throw opportunities (47) and outscored Rio Grande, 36-13, from the stripe.
Boone and Junior Arrey, who finished with 14 points in the win, had 13 free throw attempts each and combined for six more tries from the line than the RedStorm had as a team (20). Both also had three steals each.
Rio Grande, which shot 57.7 percent in the first half (15-for-26) and 50.9 percent for the game (28-for-55), was led by Short’s 19-point effort.
Schreiter added 14 points, 10 rebounds and a game-high four assists despite fouling out with 6:29 left to play, while sophomore Kyle Lamotte (Mason, OH) finished with 11 points, a career-high 11 rebounds and a game-best three blocked shots and junior Hadith Tiggs (Mayfield Heights, OH) also netted 11 points in a losing cause.
Rio Grande returns to action next Tuesday when Asbury University visits for a 7:30 p.m. tipoff.
Randy Payton is the Sports Information Director at the University of Rio Grande.