RIO RGANDE, Ohio — The adage that “close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades” is one that University of Rio Grande men’s basketball head coach Ken French is all too familiar with.
On Tuesday night at the Newt Oliver Arena, French’s RedStorm almost ended their extended losing slide.
Asbury University erased a nine-point first half deficit and then held on to defeat Rio Grande, 84-79, in River States Conference play.
The Eagles improved to 12-7 overall and 6-3 in league play, moving to within one game of a tie with Brescia University for the top spot in the RSC West Division.
The RedStorm suffered a seventh straight loss, falling to 7-13 overall and 1-6 in the RSC.
Exactly half of Rio’s 20 games have been decided by seven points or less and only three of those 10 contests have resulted in RedStorm wins.
Tuesday’s loss, in some ways, didn’t add up numerically.
Rio Grande shot 68 percent in the first half (15-for-22), yet still trailed, 43-39, at the intermission. The RedStorm finished a 54.9 percent (28-for-51) – its second-best shooting performance of the season – for the game.
Rio also committed just 10 turnovers, tying its single-game low mark for the season.
If there was one category in which the RedStorm hurt themselves it was free throw shooting, where they finished just 17-for-26 (65.4%). Those figures included an 11-for-18 performance at the charity stripe in the second half.
The game’s turning point, though, came late in the opening half when Asbury used a 12-0 run over a span of just two minutes to erase a 29-20 Rio lead.
The RedStorm regained one-point leads three more times inside the final 3-1/2 minutes of the opening period, including 38-37 after a pair of free throws by freshman Gunner Short (Catlettsburg, KY) with 1:24 remaining before the break, but the Eagles scored six of the final seven points in advance of the intermission and never trailed again.
Asbury’s lead reached as many as 15 points after a bucket by Clif Conley made it 61-46 with 12:49 remaining, but Rio Grande hung around and methodically chipped away at the deficit.
A steal and layup by sophomore Kyle Lamotte (Mason, OH) got the RedStorm within 79-75 with 29.3 seconds left, but the Eagles did just enough at the foul line (3-for-6) and a Rio turnover helped seal the win.
Conley was a one-man wrecking ball for Asbury, scoring a career-high 37 points in the win. He finished 12-for-15 from the floor, including 5-for-5 from three-point range, and scored 16 of his team’s first 18 points in the second half en route to building the 15-point lead.
Trenton Thompson had 20 points and a game-high 11 rebounds before fouling out late in the winning effort, while Siah Holifield added 11 points.
Short led a quartet of double-digit scorers for the RedStorm with 18 points, while junior Cameron Schreiter (Mason, OH) had 16 points and a game-high nine rebounds.
Freshman Joshua Anthony (Newnan, GA) and senior Earl Russell (Warrington, England) finished with 15 and 10 points, respectively, in a losing cause. Schreiter, Russell, Short and junior Hadith Tiggs (Mayfield Heights, OH) shared team honors three assists each.
Rio Grande returns to action Thursday night when it opens a five-game road swing at Midway University.
Tip time is slated for 7:30 p.m.
Randy Payton is the Sports Information Director at the University of Rio Grande.