MOUNT VERNON, Ohio — Host Mount Vernon Nazarene rallied with a scoring blitz over a 10-minute span which bridged the close of the first half and the start of the second stanza and went on to defeat the University of Rio Grande, 97-71, Friday afternoon, in non-conference men’s basketball action at Ariel Arena.
The Cougars, who received votes in the latest NAIA Division II coaches’ poll, improved to 13-3 with a fourth straight win.
Rio Grande, which played without the services of starting forward Stanley Christian, who missed the contest while attending the funeral of a family member, had a modest two-game winning streak snapped and slipped to 4-11.
The RedStorm led throughout much of the opening half and enjoyed a 28-23 advantage following a three-pointer by senior Corey Cruse (Fort Mitchell, KY) with 6:06 remaining before intermission, but MVNU reeled off 13 consecutive points and closed the half on a 15-2 run for a 38-30 halftime lead.
The Cougars also scored the first 11 points of the second half, taking a 49-30 cushion after a Josh Ashwill layup with 16:22 left to play and never looked back.
Rio Grande got no closer than 16 points the rest of the way and MVNU extended its advantage to as many as 32 points on two occasions inside the final three minutes of the contest.
The Cougars shot a blistering 73.5 percent (25-for-34) from the field in the second half, finishing at 61.3 percent (38-for-62) for the game.
Mount Vernon Nazarene also outrebounded Rio, 19-7, in the second half en route to a 34-24 edge for the game.
Jacob Paul led the Cougars with a career-high 25 points off the bench. The freshman guard went 10-for-11 from the field overall, including 3-for-4 from three-point range, while playing just under 20 minutes.
Ashwill added 16 points to go along with a game-high six assists and three steals, while Joey Schmitz and Trey McBride finished with 13 points each in the win. Schmitz also pulled down a team-best six rebounds.
Rio Grande shot a respectable 44.4 percent for the game (24-for-54) and was a solid 16-for-20 at the free throw line, but the RedStorm committed 17 turnovers which helped MVNU to a 24-9 advantage in points off the miscues.
Junior guard Will Hill (Worthington, OH) poured in a career-high 30 points and had a team-best three assists in a losing cause for Rio.
Senior DeVon Price (Pickerington, OH) and sophomore Abe Eze (Lagos, Nigeria) finished with 12 points each for the RedStorm, nearly all of which came in the second half. Price totaled all of his points after the break, while Eze had all but two of his points over the final 20 minutes.
Cruse tallied 10 points and a game-high nine rebounds, but was limited to no points and one rebound after halftime.
Rio Grande returns to action next Friday (Jan. 6) when it hosts River States Conference rival Brescia University in a 5 p.m. tipoff at the Newt Oliver Arena.
Randy Payton is the Sports Information Director at the University of Rio Grande.