OWENSBORO, Ky. — If you’re ever charged with finding a perfect example of a “gutsy” effort from a collegiate basketball team, you need not look further than the performance of the University of Rio Grande men on Thursday night.
The already injury-riddled RedStorm lost their top offensive threat just before the midway point of the second half, but somehow erased a pair of 11-point deficits after halftime and upended Brescia University, 70-67, in River States Conference action at the Moore Center.
Rio Grande improved to 9-10 overall and 2-3 in league play with the win, snapping a three-game losing slide in the process.
Brescia dropped to 4-11 overall and 1-4 in the RSC.
Rio Grande shot just 20 percent from the floor in the opening half, yet trailed only 27-23 at the intermission.
The Bearcats opened up leads of 38-27 and 40-29 inside the first five minutes of the second stanza, but the RedStorm reeled off nine straight points and pulled within 40-38 following a pair of free throws by senior Hadith Tiggs (Mayfield Heights, OH) with 13:11 left in the contest.
Less than a minute later, though, sophomore Gunner Short (Catlettsburg, KY) was helped from the floor after an apparent leg injury. He did not return, finishing with just eight points and a pair of rebounds.
But head coach Ken French’s club, which has played all season without preseason All-RSC pick Cameron Schreiter (Mason, OH) and who recently lost junior guard Kyle Lamotte (Mason, OH) to a hand injury, did not fold after Short’s departure.
Instead, it locked in a tooth-and-nail battle with its host over the final 12 minutes – a span which saw five ties and just as many lead changes.
The final lead change came with 56.8 seconds remaining when a three-pointer by junior Trey Kelley (Minford, OH) gave Rio a 67-66 advantage.
Tiggs hit one of two free throw attempts 22 seconds later to push the lead to two points, but Brescia sliced the deficit in half when Kayode Daboiku nailed the first of two free throws with 8.8 seconds left to make it 68-67.
Daboiku missed his subsequent try from the charity stripe and the RedStorm came away with the rebound, with Kelley ending up back on the free throw line with 5.5 seconds remaining.
Kelley hit the first attempt and missed the second, but junior Bobby Anderson (Catlettsburg, KY) tapped the loose ball rebound back out front where Kelley was fouled yet again with .7 seconds left.
Kelley connected on the back end of the two-shot opportunity to give Rio a three-point cushion and, after a Brescia timeout, the Bearcats’ last chance length-of-the-court game-tying attempt ended in a turnover as time expired.
Tiggs led five double-digit scorers for Rio with 15 points. He also had a game-high five assists and a team-best four steals.
Junior Dwaine Simmons (Grand Turk, Turks & Caicos) finished with 14 points and a career-high 11 rebounds in the winning effort. All but one of his points and four of his rebounds came in a seven-minute stretch of the second half.
Kelley, senior Greg Wallace (Montego Bay, Jamaica) and freshman Shiloah Blevins (South Webster, OH) all tossed in 11 points in the victory. Blevins also tied for game-high honors with four blocked shots.
After its 7-for-35 showing from the floor in the first half, Rio Grande connected on 16 of its 29 second half tries (55.2%).
Daboiku paced Brescia with a game-high 24 points, in addition to pulling down 10 rebounds and finishing with a game-best five steals. He also had four blocked shots.
Ricky Shuford added 11 points and nine rebounds in a losing cause, while Damontae Barnhill handed out four assists.
Rio Grande returns to action on Saturday when it travels to New Albany, Ind. to face Indiana University Southeast.
Tipoff is set for 3 p.m.
Randy Payton is the Sports Information Director at the University of Rio Grande.