Rio men avenge earlier loss, upend Golden Bears
February 1, 2012By Randy Payton of University of Rio Grande
RIO GRANDE, Ohio - If the University of Rio Grande's win over the University of the Cumberlands on January 5 - the RedStorm's first in Mid-South Conference play - wasn't the high point of the 2011-12 season thus far, then Saturday afternoon's triumph over West Virginia University Tech has to be.
Head coach Ken French's club rallied from a six-point second half deficit and then held on down the stretch to deal the Golden Bears a 73-65 loss in men's basketball action at the Newt Oliver Arena.
Rio Grande snapped a three-game losing slide and evened its record at 11-11 in the final non-conference game of the season.
In the process, the RedStorm also avenged their worst loss of the season - a 92-56 setback in Montgomery, W.Va. on December 1 - and stopped a six-game losing streak against the Bears.
"There probably aren't too many instances in the country where two teams have played each other and you end up with the turnaround that we had today," French said. "To be quite honest, I challenged our guys and told them that we needed to change our focus and our effort in order to change the outcome. I thought we did that."
WVU Tech, which had won six of its previous eight outings entering Saturday's contest - slipped to 14-7 overall.
Tech, which is leaving the MSC at the end of the 2011-12 school year, is ineligible for the league title after petitioning for re-admittance into NCAA Division II last year despite continuing to play an MSC schedule. If head coach Bob Williams' team was eligible for the conference crown, they would have entered the game as part of a three-way tie for first place with Georgetown and Lindsey Wilson.
"Obviously, West Virginia Tech is a very good team, but I thought we played well today. We didn't have everyone play well individually, but we played well as a team," said French. "I thought our guards carried us in the first half and in the second half our four (power forward Shaun Gunnell) and five (center Dominick Haynes) men did a great job and won the game for us. Great team effort, great team win."
Haynes, a junior from Cleveland, Ohio, led three Rio players in double figures with 15 points, finishing a perfect 7-for-7 from the floor, while Gunnell, a senior from Columbus, netted 13 points and pulled down a team-high nine rebounds. Both scored 11 of their game total after halftime.
Sophomore guard Jermaine Warmack (Orange, NJ) completed the double-digit trio with 10 points, seven of which came in the final 3:30 with the outcome still very much hanging in the balance. He was 5-for-6 at the free throw line during that stretch.
"At some point, you have to get tired of giving games away the way that we have," French said. "Today, the game was there for somebody to go and get it and, when it was all said and done, I thought we were the ones who came up with the loose balls and got the offensive rebounds - and the defensive rebounds when they had to be made - and that's why we got the win."
The first half was a back-and-forth affair that featured nine lead changes before ending in a 33-33 deadlock - the fifth tie of the opening 20 minutes - at the intermission. Tech's biggest lead was four points at 6-2, while Rio's largest margin of the opening stanza was five, 24-19.
The second half was much of the same, with eight more ties and six more lead changes.
The RedStorm opened up a 38-35 lead after a bucket by Haynes with 18:04 remaining, but the Golden Bears reeled off nine straight points to open up their biggest lead of the day, 44-38, following a Donald Robinson offensive rebound and stickback with 16:12 left.
But Rio responded with a 12-2 run of its own to take a 50-46 advantage after a pair of Gunnell free throws with 12:15 still to play and set up a tightly-contested finish.
Tech scored five straight to take a 51-50 lead after another Robinson putback with 9:57 remaining, but Rio got a three-pointer from junior guard Kaleb Kimber (Salisbury, NC) 51 seconds later and - although the game would be tied five more times - the Golden Bears never led again.
The last of the five ties was at 65-all following a layup by Tech's David Rawlinson with 3:02 left, but Warmack connected on a jumper with 2:03 left to give the RedStorm the lead for good and start a game-ending 8-0 run.
"A lot of that has to do with mental toughness, which is something we had written probably six or seven times throughout our scouting report," said French, referring to his team's refusal to fold its tent after trailing by six early in the half. "It's important for us to stay the course and understand what we're good at and to not get outside the box. It was a typical Saturday game in this league where it was ugly basketball at times - on both sides - but we were able to win it because we toughed it out and stuck to our guns and stayed with the gameplan."
Rio Grande shot 52.2 percent from the field (12-for-23) and 73.7 percent from the free throw line (14-for-19) in the second half, while Tech hit just 13 of its 35 field goals (37.1%) and committed 11 turnovers after the break.
Eddie Hayden scored 15 points to lead the Bears, while Robinson added 14 points and Josh Proctor had a game-high 12 rebounds.
The 65 points tied a single-game season-low for Tech and the 21 turnovers were the most for the Bears since a loss at NCAA Division I Coppin State back in December.
"They have a ton of weapons and they're very tough to stop when they come down and run their offense," French said of Tech. "They only had two guys get to double figures today and I think a lot of that had to do with our defense dictating them to play a little more one-on-one than what they wanted to. We were able to force them into taking some bad shots, especially in the second half."
Rio Grande returns to conference play on Thursday night when it hosts Campbellsville. Tipoff is set for 8 p.m.