RIO GRANDE, Ohio — Given the way that his team has played this season, University of Rio Grande head coach David Smalley has delivered very few — if any — in-game, paint-peeling sermons.
Tuesday night, the right reverend made his debut behind the pulpit in the RedStorm lockerroom at halftime of their River States Conference meeting with visiting Ohio Christian.
Needless to say, his message was delivered loud and clear.
Ella Skeens scored 22 of her game- and career-high 27 points in the second half as Rio Grande piled up 69 points over the final two quarters to rally from a one-point halftime deficit and roll to a 111-82 rout of the Trailblazers at the Newt Oliver Arena.
The RedStorm extended the best start in the program’s history, improving to 12-0 overall and 4-0 in conference play with the win.
The victory was also the 600th in Smalley’s 29-year-plus coaching career. He became the sixth active coach in NAIA women’s basketball with 600 or more career victories and is one of only 43 active coaches — including all divisions of NCAA — to have reached the milestone.
“It’s a compliment to our program. I just happen to be the one getting the attention because I’ve been here 30 years,” Smalley said. “There have been a lot of great players and great assistant coaches who have helped lay the foundation to get the program where it is today. You don’t reach a milestone like this by yourself. You reach it by having great people surrounding you.”
Ohio Christian (2-2, 0-1 RSC), which was playing for the first time in 27 days after dealing with multiple COVID-19-related issues, did its best to try and spoil the party.
At least for one half.
The Trailblazers erased a 15-3 deficit inside the game’s first 4-1/2 minutes, closing the gap to one by the end of the opening stanza and eventually grabbing a 43-42 lead on a three-pointer by Darcy Mitchell just before the intermission.
The advantage swung back and forth through the first three minutes of the second half, but an 8-0 Rio Grande run — capped by a steal and subsequent layup by freshman Kaylee Darnell (Wheelersburg, OH) — gave the RedStorm a 56-49 cushion with 5:16 to play in the third quarter and they never trailed again.
OCU twice cut the deficit to one late in the stanza, but Rio finished the period on a 14-5 run to regain a double-digit lead and then buried their guests with a 35-16 fourth quarter advantage.
Skeens, a junior from Chillicothe, Ohio, went 9-for-11 from the floor in the second half, including a pair of three-pointers, and finished the game 11-for-16 from the field.
Skeens also finished with a game- and career-high 13 rebounds, tied a career-high with six assists and collected a game-high four steals.
Junior Hailey Jordan (Columbus, OH) and freshman Aleea Crites (Parkersburg, WV) also played big roles in the second half scoring bonanza.
Jordan netted 15 of her 21 points over the final two quarters, while Crites had 12 of her season-best 16 points in the final 20 minutes.
Darnell and freshman Azyiah Williams (Ripley, OH) also set new career-highs with 20 and 11 points, respectively, while senior Chyna Chambers tied a career-high with 10 assists.
Rio Grande was 30-for-46 from the floor in the second half (65.2%) and finished the game 47-for-87 (54%). The RedStorm also enjoyed a 48-35 edge in rebounding and recorded an astounding 35 assists.
Ohio Christian shot 39.4 percent (26-for-66) and further hurt its cause by committing 22 turnovers, which led directly to 25 Rio Grande points.
Taylor Norris had 25 points and three assists to lead the Trailblazers, while Rachel Bolyard had 24 points in her first start of the year. Rachel Gillum added 11 points, 12 rebounds and three blocked shots in a losing cause, but was limited to four points and three rebounds in the second half.
“Our depth and our bench really made a difference, especially in the second half,” Smalley said. “(Ohio Christian) wore down as the game went on. Plus, we just continue to have kids step up and play good basketball.”
Rio Grande returns to action on Saturday when it travels north to Vienna, W.Va. to face RSC newcomer Ohio Valley University.
Tipoff is set for 3 p.m.
Randy Payton is the Sports Information Director at the University of Rio Grande.