CRESTVIEW HILLS, Ky. — The University of Rio Grande got off to a good start against Indiana Tech in Friday afternoon’s opening round of the NAIA Women’s Basketball National Championship.
But a nightmarish second stanza killed any hopes the RedStorm had of pulling an upset of the 13th-ranked Warriors and, in the process, denied head coach David Smalley’s program of its first-ever national tournament victory.
The RedStorm never recovered after scoring just two points in the second quarter and watching a first quarter tie become a 14-point halftime deficit in an eventual 66-50 loss as part of the Crestview Hills “B” Bracket at Thomas More University’s Connor Convocation Center.
Indiana Tech, the No. 2 seed in the three-team pod, upped its record to 27-2 with the win and advances to Saturday’s bracket title game against top-seeded Indiana Wesleyan University.
Rio Grande, which fell to 0-8 all-time in national tourney play, finished its season at 18-9 with the loss — its second straight setback on the heels of an 11-game winning streak.
The 50 points scored represented a season-low for the RedStorm, who entered the game ranked sixth nationally in scoring average at just under 87 points per game.
The 50 points were also the fewest scored by a Rio team since a 74-50 loss at Point Park University on Feb. 5, 2019.
A bucket by sophomore Hailey Jordan (Columbus, OH) with 2:56 left in the first quarter capped an 11-2 run and gave Rio Grande a 17-12 lead, but the RedStorm managed just two points for the remainder of the half by going 0-for-6 from the floor to close out the opening period and connecting on just one of their 14 shots in the second stanza — with five turnovers thrown in for good measure.
By the time the two teams headed to their respective locker rooms for halftime, the Warriors were sporting a 33-19 advantage.
“I’ve been doing this a lot of years and I’ve never had a quarter — or a 10-minute period — where we only scored two points,” Smalley said. “(Indiana Tech) did a nice job of switching defensively on our post players. We weren’t able to catch and square up and attack like we wanted to. The physicality was a little more than we’re used to in our conference and we didn’t do a very good job of adjusting.”
But Rio Grande didn’t fold its tent and, in fact, sliced the deficit to six points, 38-32, after a jumper by senior Chyna Chambers (Columbus, OH) with 4:42 remaining in the third quarter.
Unfortunately, the RedStorm failed to get any closer.
The Warriors pushed the lead back to 11 points heading into the final period and maintained a double-digit advantage throughout the game’s final 10 minutes.
Tech’s biggest lead of the game was 18 points, 65-47, following a three-pointer by Kyra Whitaker with 2:12 left to play.
Whitaker was part of a balanced scoring attack for the Warriors which featured five players in double figures, none of whom had more than 12 points.
Whitaker, Taya Andrews and Alexis Hill all had 12 points, while Erika Foy and Emma Tuominen netted 11 points each. Tuominen pulled down a game-high 10 rebounds, while Foy and Eileen Salisbury had three blocked shots each.
Tech shot 40.4 percent from the floor (21-for-52) and 76 percent from the foul line (19-for-25).
Rio Grande shot just 31 percent from the floor overall (19-for-61), including a 1-for-14 showing from three-point range.
The RedStorm, who also committed 19 turnovers, had just one double-digit scorer — Jordan, who finished with 14 points.
“I’m proud of our ladies,” said Smalley. “Three or four months ago, we didn’t even know if we were going to be able to play this season. To muster up an 18-9 record through everything we went through, we have to be happy. We’re building for the future and just about all of this team will be back. We’re excited to see what the future holds for us.”
Randy Payton is the Sports Information Director at the University of Rio Grande.