OAKLAND CITY, Ind. — While it was far from the most picturesque win of the 577 coaching victories that David Smalley has enjoyed over the course of his 28-plus seasons at the University of Rio Grande, the veteran bench boss wasn’t about to give it back.
Why, you might ask?
Because Tuesday afternoon’s triumph over upset-minded Oakland City University put Smalley’s RedStorm over the .500 mark for the first time this season.
Rio Grande coughed up a nine-point lead in the game’s opening minutes and then rallied from a seven-point third quarter deficit to post a 68-58 win over the winless Mighty Oaks at the Johnson Physical Education Center.
The RedStorm, which won for the sixth time in seven outings after a 1-5 start, improved to 7-6 with the victory.
Oakland City, the newest member of the River States Conference, fell to 0-11 with the loss.
The Mighty Oaks, who were also playing without the services of two of their top four scorers, fell behind 13-4 inside the game’s first five minutes but used a 9-0 run — capped by a free throw by Malia Schmittler — to take an 18-17 lead with 1:37 left in the first quarter.
Outside of a brief 19-18 Rio lead and a 24-all tie with just over six minutes left in the first half, Oakland City maintained the lead for the rest of the period and enjoyed a 37-32 cushion at the intermission.
The lead reached as many as seven points, 44-37, after a layup by Rashida Cheddick with 6:04 remaining in the third quarter, but that’s when the RedStorm began to mount their comeback effort.
A 9-2 Rio run — culminated by a free throw by sophomore Hailey Jordan (Columbus, OH) — tied the game at 46-46 with 2:29 left in the stanza and a layup by sophomore Lexi Woods (Waverly, OH) with 53 seconds left in the period gave the RedStorm a 50-48 lead.
It was a lead they would never relinquish.
Three-point goals on consecutive possessions by junior Avery Harper (Seaman, OH) — her only field goals of the contest — finished off a 12-3 spurt to open the final quarter and gave Rio its largest lead of the day to that point, 64-53, with 6:53 remaining.
Oakland City got no closer than eight the rest of the way, while a layup by Jordan with 1:27 left gave the RedStorm their largest lead of the afternoon, 68-56.
Rio survived 24 turnovers by shooting 46 percent from the floor (29-for-63) and collecting 17 steals amongst the 24 turnovers committed by the Mighty Oaks.
The RedStorm also blocked 11 shots, the most in a single game by a Rio squad since recording 11 blocks in a win over Carlow University on Jan. 22, 2019.
Jordan had 19 points, 10 rebounds and four blocked shots to lead the winning effort, while Woods tallied 13 points and 10 rebounds of her own and freshman Caitlyn Brisker (Oak Hill, OH) netted 12 points.
Senior Chyna Chambers (Columbus, OH) added a game-high six assists and four steals for Rio.
Oakland City shot just 29.7 percent from field overall (19-for-64) and 21 percent from three-point range (3-for-14).
Tabby Klem led the Mighty Oaks with 13 points, but scored just two points after halftime. Schmittler added 11 points and a game-high 12 rebounds in a losing cause.
Rio Grande returns to action Wednesday night against Asbury University. Tipoff is set for 5:30 p.m. at the Luce Activities Center in Wilmore, Ky.
Randy Payton is the Sports Information Director at the University of Rio Grande.