RIO GRANDE, Ohio — In a season chock full of narrow losses, perhaps none was more gut-wrenching for the University of Rio Grande men’s basketball team than Saturday afternoon’s Senior Day setback at the hands of Ohio Christian University.
The RedStorm erased an 18-point first half deficit, but failed to maintain a five-point advantage of their own in the closing minutes of an eventual 84-83 loss to the Trailblazers at the Newt Oliver Arena.
Rio Grande dropped to 9-19 overall and 4-11 in the River States Conference with its seventh straight setback.
The streak is the longest of its kind for the RedStorm since a seven-game losing slide from Nov. 19-Dec. 13, 2016.
Rio Grande saw its hopes of finishing as the No. 3 seed from the RSC’s East Division in the upcoming conference tournament go by the wayside with the loss. The RedStorm now trails Carlow University by 1-1/2 games with two games left to play for the fourth and final post-season berth in the RSC East Division.
The Celtics actually have three games left to play, with road trips to WVU-Tech on Tuesday and a makeup game at East Division champion – and No. 2-ranked – Indiana University East on Thursday night before hosting Rio in the regular season finale for both teams next Saturday.
The RedStorm will host Point Park University – which currently sits in last place in the East Division – on Tuesday night.
Ohio Christian’s Jalen Hearn put the Trailblazers ahead to stay by banking in a high-arcing jumper with 18.1 seconds left to play – his only points in the second half after scoring 16 before halftime.
Rio Grande had one final opportunity to win in the closing seconds, but senior Devon Price’s (Pickerington, OH) jumper was just short and bounced off the rim as time expired.
The loss was the fourth by five points or less during the streak and the ninth by five points or less this season. Three of the losses have been by two points or less.
Rio Grande jumped out to an eight-point lead less than five minutes into Saturday’s game, but Ohio Christian hit 21 of its first 28 shots – including nine three-pointers – to open up a 18-point lead, 52-34, after a bucket by Hearn with 2:34 left in the first half.
The RedStorm closed to within 14 points at the intermission and continued to methodically chip away at the deficit in the second half before regaining a 73-72 edge following a basket by sophomore Stanley Christian (Norfolk, VA) with 7:48 remaining.
Rio boosted its cushion to 80-75 with just under three minutes remaining when a controversial official’s decision help ignite a final surge by the Trailblazers.
Coming out of a timeout, Ohio Christian was allowed to put the ball in play before Rio Grande had completely returned to the floor – without a previous warning to the RedStorm bench to do so – and a subsequent dunk by Rinjard Hartman kickstarted a 7-1 OCU run that produced an 82-81 lead for the Trailblazers after a layup by John Johnson with 1:34 left in the game.
Rio Grande regained the lead when Price narrowly beat the shot clock buzzer with a jumper in the lane to make it 83-82 with 31.3 seconds left, setting up the frantic final half-minute.
Johnson scored a career-high 26 points to lead all scorers, while Rael Windley had 15 points and 11 rebounds and Kaleb Vaughn finished with 14 points in the winning effort.
OCU finished the game at 34-for-58 from the floor (58.6%), including an 11-for-25 showing from beyond the three-point arc.
The hot shooting helped the Trailblazers survived a 35-30 rebounding deficit and double the number of turnovers committed by the RedStorm (14-7).
Rio, which shot a respectable 45 percent (33-for-73) from the floor and hit nine trifectas of its own, was led by Christian’s 18-point, eight-rebound effort.
Senior guard Will Hill (Worthington, OH) scored 16 points – despite a second straight off-night in terms of shooting – and handed out a game-high six assists. Price, senior Kenny Counil (Jacksonville, FL) and sophomore Greg Wallace (Montego Bay, Jamaica) all added 10 points in a losing cause.
Price also had five assists of his own and a game-high three steals.
For Rio Grande, Tuesday night’s game with Point Park is scheduled for a 7:30 p.m. tipoff. Faculty/Staff Appreciation night activities will take place prior to the game, following the conclusion of the women’s contest.
Randy Payton is the Sports Information Director at the University of Rio Grande.