Indiana University East’s Tia King certainly played like royalty on Tuesday night at the University of Rio Grande’s Newt Oliver Arena.
King poured in a career-high 36 points, including 13 in the final quarter, as the 20th-ranked Red Wolves rallied to outlast the homestanding RedStorm, 106-96, in River States Conference women’s basketball action.
IU East improved to 23-5 overall and 14-1 in the RSC, while also securing the No. 1 seed in the upcoming conference tournament and a spot in the NAIA national tournament next month.
Rio Grande, which also saw the Red Wolves rally in the final quarter for a five-point win during their first meeting back in December, slipped to 17-10 overall and 8-6 in league play with the loss.
The RedStorm appeared poised for an upset, storming back from a 15-point second quarter deficit and a 57-49 halftime shortfall to take a 69-68 lead on a pair of free throws by freshman Abby Wendel (Portland, IN) with 2:50 remaining in the third quarter.
Rio extended its lead to as many as four points after a jumper in the lane by Wendel – who scored all 12 of her points in the third period – made it 73-69 with 1:34 left in the stanza.
The RedStorm maintained the same advantage after a jumper by senior Sharday Baines (East Cleveland, OH) – who was named the RSC Player of the Week on Monday – made it 81-77 with 8:02 remaining in the contest, but the Red Wolves went on a 17-2 run over the next five minutes to take a 94-83 lead of their own.
King had seven points during the scoring spurt, while her backcourt mate, Kristen Miller, had six points of her own.
Rio Grande reeled off six straight points to slice the deficit down to five and drew within five once more after a bucket by sophomore Jaida Carter (New Philadelphia, OH) with 1:16 left made it 96-91, but the RedStorm got no closer the rest of the way.
Rio also lost the services of Baines and senior Brooke Marcum (Vinton, OH) in the final 3-1/2 minutes after both fouled out. Baines left with 20 points and seven assists, while Marcum finished with 15 points and 12 rebounds.
IU East went to the free throw line 42 times, converting on 33 of their attempts and outscoring the RedStorm by 12 points at the charity stripe. Rio finished 21-for-24 at the line.
The RedStorm outshot the Red Wolves from the floor overall (50.0%-44.9%) and outrebounded their guests, 43-38, but Rio hit just one of 13 three-point attempts and was slowed by 23 turnovers.
In addition to Baines, Marcum and Wendel, the RedStorm also got double-digit scoring efforts from Carter (20 pts) and sophomore Jasmine Smith (Canal Winchester, OH), who finished with 10.
Mackenzie Campbell and Miller added 23 and 21 points, respectively, for IU East. Miller finished with seven assists, while King also had seven rebounds and three steals in the winning effort.
Rio Grande returns to action on Saturday afternoon when it travels to Ohio Christian University for the final road game of the 2016-17 regular season.
Tipoff is set for 1 p.m. at the Maxwell Center in Circleville.