RIO GRANDE, Ohio — Finally, the monkey that had affixed itself to the back of the University of Rio Grande men’s basketball team decided to take up residence elsewhere.
The RedStorm built an 18-point second half lead and then held off a late rally by Indiana University Northwest to post a 91-84 win over the Redhawks in the men’s bracket consolation game of the Bevo Francis Invitational Tournament, Saturday night, at the Newt Oliver Arena.
The win was the first of the season for Rio, which began the 2017-18 campaign with five consecutive losses, including a four-point setback at the hands of Wilberforce University in Friday’s opening round after the RedStorm failed to hang on to a 13-point second half advantage.
IU Northwest, an NAIA Division II independent located in Gary, Indiana, slipped to 2-6 with the loss in the first all-time meeting between the two schools.
Rio Grande led from start to finish, although its seven-point halftime lead ballooned to 18 points with just under 13 minutes left before shrinking to just five points on five different occasions inside the final 4-1/2 minutes.
The last of the five-point margins came with 38.2 seconds left when a bucket by Northwest’s Chris Dixon-Williams got the RedHawks within 89-84, but the RedStorm sealed the win just 12 seconds later on a pair of free throws by senior Will Hill (Worthington, OH).
Hill finished with a game-high 34 points – one short of his career-high – including an 18-for-18 performance at the free throw line. He’s now 59-for-60 at the charity stripe this season and leads NAIA Division II with a 98.3 free throw percentage.
Hill, who also had a team-high four assists in the win, is now 19 points shy of the 1,000-point mark for his career.
Three other RedStorm players reached double figures in the victory.
Senior Kenny Council (Jacksonville, FL) and junior Abe Eze (Lagos, Nigeria) both netted a season-high 16 points and senior Devon Price (Pickerington, OH) added a season-best 13 points. Council also yanked down a career- and game-high 11 rebounds.
Rio Grande survived a season-high 25 turnovers by shooting 49.1 percent (28-for-57) for the game, including a 55.6 percent mark (15-for-27) in the second half. The RedStorm also outscored the RedHawks by nine points at the free throw line, going 30-for-41 as a team, and finished with a whopping 50-31 edge in rebounding.
Dixon-Williams, who had a career-high 33 points in IU Northwest’s loss to Mount Vernon Nazarene on Friday, had 31 points – and a game-high seven steals – in a losing cause against the RedStorm.
Rashad Richardson added 19 points and a team-best three assists for the RedHawks, while Chris Bolden and Jovan Jackson tossed in 11 points apiece. Bolden also had nine rebounds.
Rio Grande returns to action on Tuesday night when rival Shawnee State University visits for a non-conference tilt. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.
Randy Payton is the Sports Information Director at the University of Rio Grande.