RIO GRANDE, Ohio — A first half scoring spurt by visiting Point Park University put the University of Rio Grande in a major predicament.
A second half run by the home team narrowly missed producing a dramatic victory.
The RedStorm chopped a 22-point second half deficit down to just two in the closing seconds before succumbing to the Pioneers, 74-70, Tuesday night in River States Conference men’s basketball action at the Newt Oliver Arena.
Point Park improved to 14-13 overall and 6-7 in league play with the win, while completing a season sweep of Rio Grande and securing a spot in the upcoming RSC Tournament in the process.
The RedStorm suffered a fourth straight loss and its fifth setback in the last six outings, dropping to 11-17 overall and 4-10 in the RSC.
Rio’s only chance of earning a post-season berth hinges on the RedStorm winning its final two games — at Carlow University on Saturday and against WVU-Tech at home one week from Saturday — in addition to Ohio Christian University losing each of its final three games (at IU East on Saturday, vs. Carlow next Tuesday and at Point Park on Feb. 22).
The RedStorm trailed just 12-11 after a jumper in the lane by senior Greg Wallace (Montego Bay, Jamaica) with 12:56 remaining in the first half, but the Pioneers went on a 24-6 over a stretch covering nearly 10 minutes and opened up a 19-point advantage, 36-17, after a steal and layup by Kyle Carrington with 3:03 left before halftime.
Point Park settled for an 18-point cushion at the break before surging out to its largest lead of the night, 53-31, after an emphatic dunk by Xavier Prince with 10:33 remaining in the game.
Prince was assessed a technical foul for taunting on the same play and Rio responded with the start of a furious, yet methodical comeback effort.
Senior Hadith Tiggs (Mayfield Heights, OH) fueled the rally, scoring 18 of his career-best and game-high 26 points in the second half.
A driving layup by Tiggs got the RedStorm within 14 points, 53-39, with 8:00 left. A thunderous one-handed dunk by Tiggs with 5:46 remaining made it a 10-point game, 55-45. Another layup by Tiggs with 2:01 left sliced the deficit to five, 62-57.
Junior Bobby Anderson’s jumper with 23 seconds remaining closed the gap to 66-63, but the Pioneers went 6-for-6 at the free throw line over the next 20 seconds to maintain their advantage and enjoy a 72-67 lead with 3.3 seconds left.
Junior Trey Kelley (Minford, OH) drained a three-pointer with 1.5 seconds remaining to get Rio within two, 72-70, but Point Park’s Garrett McHenry — who was fouled on the ensuing inbounds play with no time coming off the clock — connected on both of his subsequent free throw attempts to seal the victory.
The Pioneers hit 16 of their 20 second half free throw tries and were 22-for-29 from the charity stripe for the game, while Rio — despite shooting 50 percent from the floor in the second half — was just 13-for-20 at the foul line after the intermission and 17-for-27 for the game.
McHenry led PPU with 21 points, while Carrington had 12 points and a game-high nine rebounds. The Pioneers also outrebounded their hosts, 42-29.
Kelley and junior Dwaine Simmons (Grand Turk, Turks & Caicos) netted 10 points each in the loss for Rio Grande, while freshman Shiloah Blevins (South Webster, OH) tallied nine points and a team-best six rebounds.
Tiggs and Blevins also handed out three assists each in a losing cause.
Rio’s contest at Carlow on Saturday is scheduled for a 3 p.m. tipoff at Oakland Catholic High School in Pittsburgh, Pa.
Randy Payton is the Sports Information Director at the University of Rio Grande.