INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — There’s no doubt that Marian University’s scouting report on the University of Rio Grande made mention of the RedStorm’s leading scorer — and the River States Conference Player of the Year — Ella Skeens.
But the fourth-ranked Knights showed that they’ve got an Ella on their roster who’s pretty good in her own right.
Ella Collier scored a career-high 30 points to lead her team’s quartet of double-digit scorers, as Marian used a second quarter blitz to take control and roll past Rio, 99-78, in the championship game of the NAIA Women’s Basketball National Championship Opening Round pod, Saturday night, at Marian University Arena.
The host Knights, who were the No. 2 seed in the tourney’s Liston Quadrant, improved to 29-4 with the victory and advanced to next week’s Round of 16 at the Tyson Events Center in Sioux City, Iowa.
Rio Grande, which was ranked 20th nationally and seeded seventh in the quadrant, saw its most successful season in program history end at 32-3.
The RedStorm couldn’t have asked for a better start, bolting to a 12-4 lead just under 4-1/2 minutes into the contest, but the Knights closed the quarter on a 19-5 run and kept right on rolling in the second quarter.
Marian scored 32 second quarter points and led by as many as 26 points inside the final minute of the half before settling on a 55-32 advantage at the intermission.
The Knights shot a blistering 72 percent from the field in the opening two periods (18-for-25) and cashed in on their numerous opportunities at the free throw line, going a perfect 17-for-17 at the charity stripe.
On the other hand, Rio Grande hit five of its first eight shots to open the game, but hit just six of its final 20 shots to finish off the half.
The RedStorm also committed a dozen first half turnovers which led to a 19-6 edge in points off of turnovers for the hosts at the break.
Rio Grande started the second half on a 6-0 run to close the deficit to 17, but Marian responded with a 15-5 scoring spurt of its own over the next four minutes to open up a 27-point advantage and end any hopes of a second half rally by the RedStorm.
The Knights’ biggest lead of the evening was 30 points, 77-47, after a jumper by Shanyce Makuei with 1:32 remaining in the third period and Rio got no closer than 21 points the rest of the way.
Collier scored 21 of her 30 points in the second half, finishing 8-for-12 overall, 4-for-5 from three-point range and 10-for-10 at the free throw line.
Imani Guy had 19 of her 23 points in the opening two quarters for Marian. The 6-foot-4 senior center also had a game-best eight rebounds and three blocked shots.
Abby Downard added 20 points in addition to a game-high eight assists and five steals to the winning effort, while Makuei netted 15 points off the bench.
The Knights shot 59.3 percent for the game (32-for-54) and were 30-for-32 at the foul line (93.8%).
Senior Chyna Chambers (Columbus, OH) scored a season-high 23 points in her final appearance in a Rio uniform, while also handing out a team-high four assists.
Freshman Kaylee Darnell (Wheelersburg, OH) and junior Hailey Jordan (Columbus, OH) netted 13 and 12 points, respectively, in a losing cause, while Skeens was limited to 10 points — eight of which came in the second half — and a pair of blocked shots.
Slowing Skeens was clearly the object of the Marian defense, which ranked in the Top 15 nationally in points allowed per game. Her 10 points represented the lowest scoring output for the Chillicothe, Ohio junior since netting just eight points in a win over Indiana Southeast on Jan. 8.
Senior Avery Harper (Seaman, OH), also playing in her final collegiate game, led the RedStorm with five rebounds.
As a team, Rio finished 25-for-63 (39.7%) from the floor and 26-for-30 at the free throw line (86.7%) in a game where the the Crossroads League-based officiating crew whistled a combined 47 personal fouls.
The RedStorm were also out rebounded, 33-32, and hurt their own cause with 20 turnovers.
Randy Payton is the Sports Information Director for the University of Rio Grande.