RIO GRANDE, Ohio — University of Rio Grande women’s basketball head coach David Smalley lost four of the 12 players on his varsity roster – including two starters – to injury before the Christmas holiday break.
A fifth went down on Thursday night and the RedStorm failed to survive in their biggest River States Conference game of the season to date.
West Virginia University-Tech built a 16-point third quarter lead and then held on down the stretch to post an 82-73 road win at the Newt Oliver Arena.
The Golden Bears, who picked up their second straight regular season win at Rio, improved to 11-8 overall and 6-1 in the RSC’s East Division.
Rio Grande slipped to 13-5 overall and 4-2 in the RSC East.
The RedStorm, who’ve been playing without the services of senior Jasmine Smith (Canal Winchester, OH) and sophomore Chyna chambers (Columbus, OH) since their pre-holiday trip to Hawaii, had an early 10-8 lead when junior Sydney Holden (Wheelersburg, OH) went down with an apparent knee injury just 4:42 into the contest.
Holden was helped off the court and did not return, although she did emerge from the trainer’s room to make a brief appearance on the Rio bench later in the half.
She is expected to be examined on Friday to determine the extent of the injury.
The RedStorm tried to absorb Holden’s loss and did so for a while, leading 27-26 after a bucket by freshman Avery Harper (Seaman, OH) with 7:10 left in the second quarter, but the Golden Bears reeled off a 21-6 run to close out the half and enjoyed a 47-33 advantage at the intermission.
It was a lead they would never relinquish.
The lead reached 16 points after a jumper in the lane by ShanEttine Butler – who along with Whittney Justice came off the bench to fuel Tech’s late run in the first half – made it 55-39 with 4:45 left in the third period.
Rio Grande mounted a furious comeback attempt and managed to slice the deficit down to five on three occasions, the last of which was 76-71 after a three-pointer by senior Megan Liedtke (Beverly, OH) with 1:49 remaining in the game, but the Bears finished things off by scoring six of the game’s final eight points.
Justice finished with a career-high 23 points and a team-high three steals, while Butler – who was averaging just 2.9 points per game entering the contest – had a career-high 18 points of her own for Tech, which managed to hang on despite shooting just 28.6 percent (10-for-35) in the second half.
Brittney Justice added 19 points and eight rebounds in the winning effort, while Logan Dudley pulled down a game-high nine rebounds and Savannah Shamblin had a team-high four assists.
Senior Jaida Carter (New Philadelphia, OH), who was forced to leave the game late in the third quarter with leg cramps, returned early in the final stanza and finished with a game-high 25 points, five assists and four steals in a losing cause for Rio. She also had eight rebounds.
Harper tallied 13 points and sophomore Jimi Howell (Barberton, OH) finished with 11 points and a game-high nine rebounds for the RedStorm.
Rio Grande will return to action next Tuesday when Asbury University visits for another River States Conference matchup.
Tipoff is set for 5:30 p.m.
Randy Payton is the Sports Information Director at the University of Rio Grande.