RIO GRANDE, Ohio — Albeit while playing a second straight game without their most prolific offensive threat, the University of Rio Grande certainly didn’t look like a team playing for its post-season life.
On the other hand, Ohio Christian bolted out of the gate like a squad set on doing anything it could to earn the opportunity to extend its campaign beyond the regular season schedule.
The Trailblazers connected on just under 70 percent of their field goal attempts in the opening half and bolted to a 24-point halftime lead en route to an eventual 91-78 triumph over the RedStorm, Saturday afternoon, in River States Conference men’s basketball play at the Newt Oliver Arena.
OCU improved to 8-17 overall and 5-8 in league play, taking command of the fourth — and final — post-season bid out of the RSC East Division.
Rio Grande, which entered play tied with the Trailblazers for the No. 4 seed in the East with OCU, slipped to 11-16 overall and 4-9 against conference foes.
The loss all but ends the post-season hopes for the RedStorm who, while still mathematically alive, no longer control their own destiny.
In order to earn a spot in the upcoming RSC Tournament, head coach Ken French’s squad must win each of its final three games — including a home date with division-leading WVU-Tech on Feb. 22 — while both Ohio Christian and Point Park each must lose all of their remaining games, aside from the one they play against each other.
If that scenario — although highly unlikely — were to take place, Rio would make the tourney as East No. 3 seed and the OCU-PPU winner would grab the No. 4 spot.
Even with a win over Point Park, which visits the Newt Oliver Arena on Tuesday night, Rio Grande would not hold a tiebreaker over either Ohio Christian or Point Park.
With sophomore Gunner Short (Catlettsburg, KY) and his 17 points per game average watching from the bench once again, the victim of a bothersome knee injury, the RedStorm never enjoyed a lead on Saturday.
OCU hit 10 of its first 14 shots and 22 of its 32 first half shots overall (68.8%) to open up a 54-30 advantage at the intermission.
The Trailblazers, who led by as many as 27 points late in the half, also went 8-for-14 from beyond the three-point arc in the opening 20 minutes.
The lead went back to 26 points, 73-47, following a pair of Justin Barksdale free throws with 10:34 left to play, before the RedStorm made things more respectable over the course of the game’s final minutes.
Rio got no closer than the final 13-point margin.
Ohio Christian finished 33-for-57 for the game (57%), while also enjoying a 29-25 edge in rebounding.
Barksdale led a quartet of double-digit scorers for OCU with 17 points. He also pulled down a game-high 11 rebounds and had a team-high two steals.
Keason Lowe added 15 points and four assists to the winning effort, while Tolu Telli and Ben Casey contributed 14 points each.
Senior Hadith Tiggs (Mayfield Heights, OH), who was honored in pre-game ceremonies with the 11th Annual Corey Taylor Heart & Hustle Award, tied a career-high by scoring a game-high 23 points in a losing cause for Rio Grande. He also handed out four assists.
Junior Bobby Anderson (Catlettsburg, KY) added a career-best 15 points for the RedStorm, while sophomore Joshua Anthony (Newnan, GA) had 12 points. Freshman Shiloah Blevins (South Webster, OH) and junior Dwaine Simmons (Grand Turk, Turks & Caicos) had five rebounds each.
Rio Grande finished 24-for-48 from the field (50%) and was 23-of-30 at the charity stripe (76.7%).
Rio’s game with Point Park on Tuesday night is scheduled for a 7:30 p.m. tipoff.
Randy Payton is the Sports Information Director at the University of Rio Grande.