CIRCLEVILLE, Ohio — Given that his team was facing serious foul troubles and that its leading scorer and rebounder was reduced to the role of spectator after an early injury, Rio Grande head coach David Smalley was ecstatic that his club trailed by just four points at halftime.
When the deficit once again reached eight points midway through the third quarter, the RedStorm’s veteran bench boss may have begun to feel a bit uneasy.
But senior guard Chyna Chambers then went about the task of putting Smalley’s fears to rest.
The Columbus, Ohio native scored seven of her game-high 23 points in a momentum-changing run which led to an eventual 73-66 victory over Ohio Christian University in the quarterfinal round of the River States Conference Women’s Basketball Championship, Wednesday night, at the Maxwell Center.
Rio Grande, the tourney’s No. 5 seed as a result of a double-blind draw to determine the 11-team bracket, won for a 10th straight time and improved to 17-7 overall.
The victory also pushes the RedStorm into Saturday’s semifinals where they’ll face No. 1 seed Brescia, which surprised second-seeded Indiana University Southeast, 68-62 in overtime, in one of Wednesday’s other quarterfinal contests.
Ohio Christian, the No. 3 seed, finished its season at 8-10. Three of the 10 setbacks came at the hands of Rio Grande.
The Trailblazers appeared primed to take full advantage of the fact that the RedStorm were forced to play much of the night without their leading scorer and rebounder, sophomore Lexi Woods (Waverly, OH), who spent just five minutes on the court in the opening stanza before being carried off after suffering an ankle injury.
In addition to Woods’ absence, Rio was also forced to sit junior Avery Harper (Seaman, OH) and sophomore Hailey Jordan (Columbus, OH) for most of the first half after both picked up a pair of quick fouls.
OCU did turn an early five-point deficit into an eight-point second quarter lead but, despite all of Rio’s first half issues, the Trailblazers led just 40-36 at the intermission.
Their lead did jump back to eight points, 44-36, after a bucket by Darcy Mitchell capped a 4-0 spurt to begin the second half, but Rio immediately responded with a 13-4 run of its own — with Chambers being responsible for just over half of the RedStorm’s points in the spurt — to regain a 49-48 advantage on a layup by Jordan with 3:20 remaining in the period.
It was a cushion that Rio maintained for the rest of the night.
Ohio Christian did forge ties at 59- and 61-all and was within one point on four other occasions in the final quarter, but never managed to regain the lead.
The last of the four one-point deficits for the Trailblazers came at 67-66 after Helaina Limas connected on one of two free throw attempts with 3:32 left in the game, but OCU failed to score again as Rio closed the game on a 6-0 run.
Chambers, who scored 13 of her 23 points in the second half, also had a game-high five assists and five steals. Freshman Caitlyn Brisker (Oak Hill, OH) and Jordan added 15 and 14 points, respectively.
Harper pulled down a team-high 10 rebounds for the RedStorm, who outrebounded their hosts, 40-29, while shooting 41.1 percent from the floor (30-for-73).
Rachel Gillum led Ohio Christian with 16 points and a game-high 19 rebounds, while Limas had 16 points and a game-high five assists. Rachel Bolyard also had 16 points in a losing cause, while Thamara Belizaire tossed in 14 points.
The Trailblazers shot just 37.7 percent for the game (20-for-53) and committed 20 turnovers.
Rio Grande will host Saturday’s game with Brescia, with tipoff scheduled for 2 p.m. Live video on a pay-per-view basis will be available at http://portal.stretchinternet.com/rsc.
The RedStorm and the Bearcats did not meet in the regular season.
Brescia’s quarterfinal round win over IU Southeast was just its second victory in 18 games this season.
Randy Payton is the Sports Information Director at the University of Rio Grande.