RICHMOND, Ind. — In many ways, the math just didn’t add up.
The University of Rio Grande women’s basketball team surrendered the game’s first nine points to host Indiana University East and trailed by as many as 15 in the closing seconds of the opening quarter.
The RedStorm had 13 turnovers in the first period, nearly reaching their per game average (17.2), and finished with a season-high 28 miscues.
Senior forward Alexis Payne (Deep Water, WV), the team’s leading scorer and rebounder for the season, was limited to just over nine minutes of playing time as a result of an injury and was never a factor in the contest.
And Tia King, IU East’s senior standout and a strong candidate for River States Conference Player of the Year honors, scored 26 first half points on her way to a career-best 40-point performance.
Yet, somehow, head coach David Smalley’s club mounted a methodical rally for, arguably, its biggest win of the season.
Jaida Carter had a season-high 22 points to compliment a team-high five assists and three steals, while Abby Wendel added 18 points, a team-high eight rebounds and five assists of her own to lead the RedStorm in an 82-75 victory over the Red Wolves, Tuesday night, at the Student Events & Activities Center.
Rio Grande, playing for the first time since having its program-record 22-game winning streak snapped at home by West Virginia University-Tech on Saturday, improved to 25-2 overall and 13-1 in league play.
As a result of the win, the RedStorm – who are ranked No. 21 nationally in NAIA Division II – clinched no worse than a tie for the RSC East Division title and can claim the crown outright with a victory over Ohio Christian University on Saturday.
IU East, which received votes in the latest coaches’ poll, had a six-game winning streak snapped and dropped to 18-9 overall and 10-4 in the RSC.
Carter, a junior from New Philadelphia, Ohio, helped Rio survive its shaky start by scoring 16 of her points in the opening half. She finished 10-for-15 from the field and logged a season-best 37 minutes of playing time.
Wendel, a sophomore from Portland, Indiana and the lone native of the Hoosier State on the RedStorm’s roster, inflicted her damage late with 16 points after halftime. She finished a perfect 6-for-6 from the floor overall, 4-for-4 from three-point range and 2-for-2 at the free throw line.
Wendel entered the game with just four trifectas for the entire season.
Rio Grande also got 16 points from sophomore Sydney Holden (Wheelersburg, OH) – all in the second half – and 12 points from freshman Chyna Chambers (Columbus, OH) in the win.
Thanks in large part to their inability to maintain control of the ball early on, the RedStorm found themselves down 9-0 nearly halfway through the opening quarter and were staring at a 25-10 deficit following two free throws by IU East’s Mackenzie Campbell – the two-time reigning RSC Player of the Week- with 13.3 seconds left in the period.
Carter and Chambers fueled the start of the comeback in the second quarter and a three-pointer by Chambers pulled Rio as close as 35-32 with 2:50 left in the half.
King, however, outscored the RedStorm 9-4 for the remainder of the stanza to extend the Red Wolves’ lead back to 44-36 at the intermission.
Wendel and Holden kept the rally going in the third quarter and Rio drew within 59-58 on a jumper in the lane by Carter with 1:04 remaining in the stanza.
Holden connected on a three-pointer 26 seconds into the fourth quarter to give the RedStorm their first lead of the night, 61-60, while Carter put them in front to stay, 72-70, on a bucket with 1:55 left to play.
Wendel added the last of her three-pointers on Rio’s ensuing possession to produce a five-point lead and IU East got no closer than three points in the final 90 seconds.
The RedStorm’s largest lead was nine points, 81-72, following a pair of Holden free throws with 29.4 seconds remaining.
In addition to King’s big night – she had four steals along with the 40 points – Campbell tallied 13 points and a team-high six rebounds for IU East, although she scored nine of those points at the free throw line after going 2-for-13 from the floor.
Campbell also had four steals and shared team honors in assists (3) with Kristen Miller.
The Red Wolves shot just 25 percent in the second half (8-for-32) and 32 percent for the game (21-for-65), but went 30-for-36 at the foul line.
Rio Grande was 11-for-15 at the charity stripe, with most of their attempts coming in the closing minutes. The RedStorm also had a 41-29 edge in rebounding.
Rio is slated to return to action on Saturday when Ohio Christian University pays a Senior Day visit to the Newt Oliver Arena. Payne, the team’s lone senior, will be honored in pre-game ceremonies.
Tipoff is scheduled for 1 p.m.
Randy Payton is the Sports Information Director at the University of Rio Grande.
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