RIO GRANDE, Ohio — If the inability to put the ball in the basket wasn’t enough to drive the University of Rio Grande women’s basketball team out of their collective minds on Thursday night, a career-best performance from an Indiana University Kokomo reserve certainly gave the RedStorm fits.
Head coach David Smalley’s squad shot just under 20 percent from the field in the first half and just over 27 percent for the game, while IUK’s Alec Fitts poured in a career-high 35 points to lead the Cougars in a 97-90 River States Conference win at the Newt Oliver Arena.
IU Kokomo improved to 12-10 overall and 4-5 in conference play with a second consecutive victory.
Rio Grande, which had a three-game winning streak snapped, fell to 15-9 overall and 8-3 in the RSC with the loss.
The RedStorm went just eight of 41 from the floor in the opening half (19.5%) and finished the game at 24-for-88 overall (27.3%).
The staggering figure marked Rio’s lowest shooting percentage in a game since connecting on just 22.4 percent (15-for-67) of its attempts in a 77-40 loss at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise on Nov. 29, 2012.
And while the RedStorm had its trouble putting the biscuit in the basket, Fitts could seemingly do no wrong for the Cougars.
She finished 13-for-19 from the field overall – many of which came on driving, sometimes uncontested layups – while going 1-for-2 from three-point range and 8-for-11 at the foul line in just over 28 minutes of playing time.
For good measure, Fitts – who entered play averaging six points per game with a career-high of 15 points – equaled a career-high with seven rebounds and tied for team honors by collecting a pair of steals.
Two of the game’s three ties and four of its six lead changes took place in a see-saw opening quarter, but IUK methodically opened up a 48-36 lead – culminated by a buzzer-beating trifecta from Fitts – at the intermission.
Things went from bad to worse in the third quarter, with Rio managing just one field goal over the final four minutes of the stanza and the Cougars opening up a 27-point cushion, 76-49, after a pair of free throws with 55 seconds left in the period.
The RedStorm – as they have been want to do on more than one occasion this season – mounted a furious fourth quarter rally and cut the deficit to single digits with just over a minute to play, but they got no closer than the game’s final margin.
IUK overcame 21 turnovers by shooting 52.9 percent for the game (37-for-70) and enjoying a 54-52 edge in rebounding.
Along with Fitts’ career-best outing, the Cougars also got 26 points, 16 rebounds and three blocked shots from Tia Chambers, while Peete had 19 points and Vanessa Mullins tallied nine points, 10 rebounds, three blocks and a pair of steals.
Rio Grande, which ironically committed a season-low 10 turnovers, had four players finish in double figures.
Senior Sydney Holden (Wheelersburg, OH), who was named the NAIA Division II National Player of the Week on Tuesday, totaled 28 points to go along with seven rebounds, a team-high four assists and a team-best two steals.
Junior Chyna Chambers (Columbus, OH) added 21 points in a losing cause, while freshman Lexi Woods (Waverly, OH) had 13 points and a team-high 13 rebounds and freshman Kaylie Apperson (McConnelsville, OH) tossed in 12 points.
The two teams were whistled for a combined 51 personal fouls – as well as two technical fouls against the IUK coaching staff – and attempted 70 free throws.
Rio Grande will receive a forfeit win over Cincinnati Christian University in the game it was originally scheduled to play on Saturday afternoon. CCU closed its doors at the conclusion of the fall semester back in December.
The RedStorm’s return to the court will come next Tuesday with another RSC contest at Indiana University East. Tipoff is set for 5:30 p.m. at Lingle Court in Richmond, Ind.
Randy Payton is the Sports Information Director at the University of Rio Grande.