RIO GRANDE, Ohio — If it wasn’t poor free throw shooting that short-circuited upset bid by the University of Rio Grande, a controversial call with the game hanging in the balance may have.
Indiana University East rallied from a second half deficit and pulled away over the final five minutes for a 73-67 win over the RedStorm, Tuesday night, in River States Conference men’s basketball action at the Newt Oliver Arena.
The Red Wolves, who are ranked 15th in the most recent NAIA Division II coaches’ poll, improved to 20-6 overall and 12-1 in league play with an 11th consecutive victory.
Rio Grande, which learned earlier in the day that freshman standout Gunner Short (Catlettsburg, KY) and key reserve Raul Timoner (Alaior, Spain) were lost for the remainder of the season due to injury, slipped to 9-17 overall and 3-10 in the RSC with the loss.
The RedStorm scored the final nine points of the first half to take a 35-34 edge at the intermission and maintained the one-point advantage, 44-43, after a bucket in the lane by senior Earl Russell (Warrington, England) with 12:19 left to play.
IU East scored seven of the next nine points to take a 50-46 lead on a pair of Nate Niehoff free throws with 8:52 remaining and was nursing a 56-53 cushion with just under six minutes to play when controversy intervened.
Junior Cameron Schreiter (Mason, OH) was floored by IU East’s Keating Rombach, but was whistled for a blocking foul as Rombach’s shot found its way into the goal.
Rio head coach Ken French was then whistled for a technical foul after voicing his displeasure with the call.
Bishop Smith hit one of the two technical free throws and Rombach completed the conventional three-point play giving the Red Wolves a 60-53 lead with 5:55 left to play.
The lead eventually reached 12 points, 70-58, after a pair of free throws by Garrett Silcott with 2:00 remaining and Rio got no closer than the game’s final margin the rest of the way.
The RedStorm did their upset bid no favors by going 16-for-29 at the free throw line (55.2%) and were outrebounded, 43-35.
Rombach scored a career-high 24 points to lead IU East, while Jaylen McKay finished with 14 points, 11 rebounds, six assists and six steals.
Niehoff and Smith had 12 and 10 points, respectively, while Aaron Thomas pulled down 10 rebounds and blocked four shots.
Sophomore Kyle Lamotte (Mason, OH) scored 15 points to lead Rio Grande, while junior Hadith Tiggs (Mayfield Heights, OH) had 13 points and Schreiter finished with 11 points and a team-best seven rebounds.
Rio Grande returns to action on Saturday at Ohio Christian University.
Tipoff is set for 3 p.m.
Randy Payton is the Sports Information Director at the University of Rio Grande.