BECKLEY, W.Va. — After watching its 14-point third quarter advantage whittled down to just three entering the final period of regulation, West Virginia University-Tech needed something to thwart the University of Rio Grande’s comeback effort.
The Golden Bears got exactly what they were looking for.
Brittney Justice, who was named the River States Conference Player of the Year on Monday, scored five points in an 11-2 Tech run to open the fourth quarter and the Golden Bears went on to upend the RedStorm, 86-74, in the championship game of the RSC Women’s Basketball Tournament, Tuesday night, at the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center.
WVU-Tech, which had a 31-game winning streak against conference foes snapped during a regular season loss at Rio Grande on Feb. 2, improved to 12-8 with the victory.
The RedStorm slipped to 18-8 with the loss.
Rio Grande entered the contest riding an 11-game winning streak, the longest such streak for the program since winning 16 consecutive outings during the 2014-15 season.
WVU-Tech extended a 37-33 halftime lead to 14 points, 54-40, after a three-pointer by Makayla Jones with 4:21 left in the third quarter, but the Golden Bears went scoreless for the remainder of the period and Rio reeled off 11 straight points to get within 54-51 entering the final stanza.
Tech scored the first six points of the fourth quarter — four of which were by Alex Gray — and, after Rio freshman Caitlyn Brisker (Oak Hill, OH) hit a pair of free throws to briefly stop the bleeding, Justice scored the next five to push the lead back to 12 points, 65-53, with 7:04 remaining in the game.
Oddly enough, Justice had only two other points in the game.
Rio Grande got no closer than eight points from that point on and that didn’t occur until a conventional three-point play by sophomore Lexi Woods (Waverly, OH) with only 30 seconds left.
The Golden Bears sealed the win at the free throw line, going 17-for-19 at the stripe in the final quarter and finishing the game 24-for-30.
Rio finished 10-for-12 at the free throw line.
The RedStorm shot 43 percent from the floor (31-for-71) and out rebounded Tech, 41-36, but committed 19 turnovers which led to 15-8 edge in points off the miscues for the Bears.
Woods led Rio Grande with 22 points, 11 rebounds and pair of steals, while Brisker added 16 points and sophomore Hailey Jordan (Columbus, OH) tossed in 15.
Senior Chyna Chambers (Columbus, OH) handed out six assists, but failed to score for the second time this season and just the third time in her career. She was limited to just 23 minutes of playing time and fouled out in the game’s final minute.
ShanEttine Butler led WVU-Tech with a career-high 22 points, including a 12-for-16 effort at the free throw line.
Gray scored 14 points for the Golden Bears, while Whittney Justice had 14 points of her own to go along with eight assists and five steals. Brianna Ball contributed 13 rebounds and three blocked shots to the winning effort.
Tech shot 50 percent overall in the second half (13-for-26) and 46.6 percent for the game (27-for-58), while committing only 12 turnovers and blocking nine shots.
Both teams will represent the conference as its tourney champion and runner-up in the upcoming NAIA National Tournament, which begins March 12 at various opening round sites across the country.
Pairings will be announced on Thursday during an online selection show scheduled for 7 p.m.
Randy Payton is the Sports Information Director at the University of Rio Grande.