RIO GRANDE, Ohio — Last season, the University of Rio Grande men’s basketball team made a November road trip to rival Shawnee State University and pulled off a surprise come-from-behind win over the Bears, who went on win the NAIA national championship.
In Friday night’s rematch between the two teams as part of the 39th Annual Bevo Francis Invitational Tournament, any hopes of another upset victory by the RedStorm died in a pair of costly scoreless streaks.
Shawnee State, the nation’s top-ranked team in the NAIA preseason coaches’ poll, built a 13-point first half lead and continued to pull away over the course of the second half for an eventual 84-52 win at the Newt Oliver Arena.
The Bears won for the fourth time in as many outings this season.
Rio Grande dropped to 1-2 with the loss.
The RedStorm found themselves tied at 14-all after a jumper by sophomore Miki Tadic (Hilversum, The Netherlands) with 12:50 left in the first half, but failed to score again until a bucket by sophomore Shiloah Blevins (South Webster, OH) with 5:06 remaining before halftime.
By that stage, Shawnee had reeled off nine consecutive points and the Bears went on to take a 13-point advantage, 31-18, after a three-pointer by Elijah Bishop with 2:17 left before the break.
The SSU lead settled at 10 points by the intermission before another jumper by Tadic just 20 seconds into the second stanza closed the gap to eight, 35-27, but Rio went nearly five minutes before scoring again and the Bears netted 15 consecutive points to open up a 23-point cushion.
The RedStorm got no closer than 20 points the rest of the way and a game-ending 13-2 run by Shawnee over the final 4:25 produced its largest lead of the contest.
Miles Thomas had a game-high 20 points and four steals to pace the Bears in the victory, while Bishop finished with 16 points and Courtese Cooper added 11 points and a game-high 14 rebounds off the bench.
Shawnee State, whose 15-player roster features 11 players standing 6-foot-6 or taller, shot 43.7 percent for the game (31-for-71), including 55.9 percent in the second half (19-for-34), and finished with a commanding 54-29 edge in rebounding.
Rio Grande shot just 29.6 percent in the first half (8-for-27) and only 33.9 percent for the game (19-for-56).
The RedStorm also committed a season-high 14 turnovers in the loss.
Tadic had 18 points to lead Rio, while freshman Khamani Smith (Fort Wayne, IN) had 10 points.
Blevins did have a team-best eight rebounds and a game-high three assists, but was limited to just six points — his lowest total since netting the same figure against IU Southeast on Feb. 22 last season and nine points below his season average entering the game.
Freshman Exauce Manissa (Point Noire, The Congo) added four blocked shots in a losing cause.
Randy Payton is the Sports Information Director at the University of Rio Grande.