RIO GRANDE, Ohio — You might have thought that Tuesday night’s meeting between the final two unbeaten teams in the River States Conference would’ve been easy on the eyes.
It was anything but.
The University of Rio Grande built an 18-point third quarter lead, but had to survive a fourth quarter rally by Midway University to earn a 99-89 victory over the Eagles in women’s basketball action at the Newt Oliver Arena.
The RedStorm, who are ranked No. 18 in the NAIA, improved to 18-1 overall and 7-0 in league play with a third consecutive win.
Midway, the RSC’s West Division leader, had a nine-game winning streak snapped and slipped to 14-5 overall and 7-1 against conference foes.
The two teams were whistled for 63 combined fouls, including one technical foul on each squad, and combined for a staggering 87 free throw attempts.
As if the constant start-and-stop to shoot free throws didn’t hinder game flow enough, there was also an 18-minute stoppage early in the third quarter due to a scoreboard malfunction.
Midway grabbed what proved to be its biggest lead of the night just over 3-1/2 minutes into the contest when a bucket by RSC Player of the Year candidate Dezeree White gave the Eagles a 12-8 advantage.
Rio Grande responded with an 11-2 run over the next four minutes and never trailed again.
The RedStorm lead grew from four points at the close of the opening stanza to 51-37 by halftime and continued climbing after the scoreboard snafu, reaching its peak — 69-51 — following a pair of free throws by junior Hailey Jordan (Columbus, OH) with 4:18 remaining in the period.
The gap closed to 12 points, though, late in the third quarter and continued to shrink after Jordan — Rio’s own Player of the Year hopeful — was forced into the role of spectator for the final 8:51 of the game after picking up her fourth personal foul and a subsequent technical foul.
Ironically, the Eagles sliced the deficit down to 78-71 with 6:52 to play during a sequence in which White also received a technical foul after being fouled on a rebound attempt.
White hit one of two free throw tries to get the shortfall down to seven, but Rio freshman Aleea Crites (Parkersburg, WV) followed by connecting on one of the two technical foul shots to push the lead back to eight.
Crites’ free throw turned out to be the first of five consecutive RedStorm points which pushed the lead back to 12 points and Midway got no closer than eight points the rest of the way.
Crites and junior Ella Skeens (Chillicothe, OH) each finished with 21 points and a game-high 10 rebounds, while Jordan also had 21 points and four blocked shots at the time of her departure.
Crites also had a game-best four steals for Rio.
Senior Chyna Chambers (Columbus, OH) and freshman Harlei Antritt (Newark, OH) added 14 and 10 points, respectively, to the winning effort, while freshman Kaylee Darnell (Wheelersburg, OH) finished with a game-best five assists.
Rio Grande survived 24 turnovers by shooting 52 percent from the floor (35-for-67), 71 percent at the foul line (27-for-38) and out rebounding the Eagles, 52-31.
Midway also had five players finish in double figures, with Robinson’s 19 points leading the way. Eleven of her points came at the charity stripe before she fouled out with 3:40 left to play.
Jill Golden added 16 points in a losing cause, while Jalyn Jackson and Keia McCullough netted 11 points each and Kindall Talley finished with 10.
Talley tied a season-high with a team-best eight rebounds for the Eagles.
Midway shot 40 percent overall (27-for-67), but went just 4-for-20 from beyond the three-point arc (20%) and hit just 31 of its whopping 49 free throw attempts (63.3%).
Rio Grande is scheduled to return to action on Thursday night when Brescia University visits for a 5:30 p.m. tipoff.
Randy Payton is the Sports Information Director for the University of Rio Grande.