KINGSPORT, Tenn. — Corey Cruse’s layup with 21 seconds snapped the seventh tie of the contest and helped the University of Rio Grande upend Milligan (Tenn.) College, 69-66, in the final round of the NAIA DII Men’s Basketball Showcase, Sunday night, at the MeadowView Conference Resort and Convention Center.
The RedStorm, who had lost three of their previous four outings, improved to 6-4 with the victory.
Milligan suffered its second loss in as many days after opening the season with seven consecutive wins.
Late-game heroics didn’t appear necessary after Rio Grande grabbed its largest lead of the game, 41-29, following a three-pointer by junior Matt Rhodes (Westerville, OH) with 15:48 left to play, but the Buffaloes began a methodical comeback effort and eventually took a 58-57 advantage on a short jumper in the lane by Julian Bailey with 5:31 remaining.
The RedStorm regained the lead on its ensuing possession thanks to a bucket by senior D.D. Joiner (Columbus, OH) and never trailed again, although Milligan did forge a quartet of ties inside the final 4:15, including a 66-66 deadlock following a left wing jumper by Alex Biggerstaff with 51 seconds left.
That’s how things stayed until Cruse, a junior forward from Fort Mitchell, Ky., just beat a shot clock violation on Rio’s next possession with his go-ahead layup off of a pass by Joiner with 21 seconds remaining.
Senior Kevonta Black (Nashville, TN) hit one of two free throws 15 seconds later to push the lead to 69-66 and a would-be game-tying three-pointer by Milligan’s Kurt Brooks as time expired was off the mark.
Joiner scored a game-high 17 points to lead Rio, while Cruse had 14 points and a game-high 13 rebounds. Senior Dwayne Bazemore (Columbus, OH) also had 14 points for the RedStorm, while Black finished with 12 points.
Brooks had 17 points in a losing cause for Milligan, while Bailey had 16 points and a team-high 11 rebounds. Will Buckner added 10 points off the bench for the Buffaloes.
Rio Grande returns to action on Wednesday night when rival Shawnee State University visits the Newt Oliver Arena for a non-conference matchup. Tipoff is set for 8 p.m.
Randy Payton is the Sports Information Director for the University of Rio Grande.