KOKOMO, Ind. — The roller-coaster that was the 2016-17 season for the University of Rio Grande women’s basketball team made one more run on Wednesday night.
The RedStorm enjoyed the thrills of climbing the tracks and traversing the various twists and turns throughout the opening half.
The final 20 minutes, though, produced a harrowing freefall which ended with the ride’s operator — host Indiana University-Kokomo — shutting things down until next season.
The host Cougars used a third quarter surge to erase a two-point halftime deficit, and then outscored Rio 15-2 over the final 3:28 in a 75-62 victory over the RedStorm in the quarterfinal round of the River States Conference Tournament at Cougar Gym.
IU-Kokomo, the top seed from the RSC West Division, improved to 20-11 with the first postseason win in the program’s history.
The victory sent the Cougars into Saturday’s semifinal round where they’ll host Ohio Christian University, which eliminated Indiana University-Southeast in another of Wednesday’s quarterfinal-round contests.
Rio Grande, the No. 4 seed from the RSC East Division, finished 19-12 with the loss.
The RedStorm led by as many as five points late in the first half before settling on a two-point halftime lead, but head coach David Smalley’s club hit just four of its 13 field-goal attempts and committed 10 turnovers in the third quarter as IU-Kokomo opened up a nine-point lead entering the final stanza.
The Cougars’ lead reached 11 points, 55-44, after a jumper by Whitney Williamson to open the fourth quarter, but Rio methodically chipped away and tied the game at 60-60 on a conventional three-point play by sophomore Jaida Carter with 3:28 remaining.
However, IUK responded with eight straight points — including six as a result of turnovers on each of Rio’s next three possessions — to make it 68-60 after Payton Thompson hit one of two free throws with 1:21 left.
The RedStorm did get a bucket from senior Brooke Marcum of Vinton off an offensive rebound and stickback to slice the deficit to six (68-62) and make it a two possession game with 1:10 remaining, but the Cougars iced the victory by scoring the game’s final seven points.
Deja Felder led a quartet of double-digit scorers for the hosts with 19 points.
She also had a game-high five assists and shared team honors with two steals.
Abby Scott added 16 points in the winning effort for IUK, while Mackenzie Johnson finished with 15 points and Dejianna Butler netted 11.
Williamson finished with a team-high seven rebounds.
The Cougars were outrebounded, 44-35, and had one less field goal than the RedStorm overall (24-23), but they hit eight three-point goals compared to one for Rio and outscored their guests 21-13 at the free throw line.
Rio Grande was led by sophomore Jasmine Smith, who totaled 16 points, a career-high 15 rebounds and a season-high four assists.
Carter added 12 points and a game-high three steals in a losing cause, while Marcum finished with 10 points for the RedStorm, who had 18 of their 23 turnovers after halftime.
The game marked the final collegiate contest for Marcum, fellow seniors Sharday Baines and Aly Herren and junior Audra Clark.
Randy Payton is the Sports Information Director for The University of Rio Grande