RIO GRANDE – In a season where the University of Rio Grande men’s basketball team has endured more ebbs than it’s enjoyed flows, head coach Ken French’s squad is showing signs that things are finally beginning to come together.
The RedStorm recorded a third consecutive victory and limited Asbury University’s high-octane offense to its worst showing of the year in an 80-62 triumph over the Eagles, Tuesday night, in River States Conference action at the Newt Oliver Arena.
Rio Grande improved to 8-14 overall and 5-5 in league play with the win, its first in four all-time meetings with the Asbury.
The Eagles dropped to 10-10 overall and 4-6 in the RSC, falling for the sixth time in seven road outings this year.
Asbury, which entered the game averaging an NAIA Division II-best 105.6 points per game, was held under 70 points for just the second time this season. The other occasion came in a 156-63 exhibition loss at the University of Kentucky on Nov. 6, 2016.
The Eagles, who also entered the contest ranked first nationally in both offensive rebounds and steals while ranking seventh in total rebounds, were outrebounded 42-27 – 8-6 offensively – and managed a season-low four steals.
“I thought our guys responded and executed the game plan perfectly,” French said. “I’m really proud of my team. We’re not there yet, that’s for sure, but we keep getting better. When you take somebody who’s averaging 105 points a game and you hold them to 62, you’ve accomplished something. We knew they were going to take – and make – some bad shots, but we couldn’t allow them second shots. The guys bought into the game plan and executed it.”
The game featured eight ties inside the opening 12 minutes, but the second – and final – lead change of the night came with 7:24 remaining in the opening stanza when a pair of free throws by senior Corey Cruse (Fort Mitchell, KY) gave Rio a 21-19 advantage.
The RedStorm extended the cushion to six points by halftime and maintained an edge which fluctuated between four and nine points throughout the first 12 minutes of the second period.
Asbury found itself down just four, 55-51, following a conventional three-point play by Trenton Thompson with 7:45 left to play, but the RedStorm went on a 15-7 run over the next four minutes to build a 70-58 lead with 3:40 remaining.
The Eagles got no closer than 10 points the rest of the way and Rio twice built leads of as many as 18 points in the final 30 seconds, including the final score.
The RedStorm shot 62.1 percent from the floor (18-for-29) in the second half and finished 31-for-57 (54.4%) for the game.
Redshirt freshman Stanley Christian (Norfolk, VA) poured in a career-best 25 points – 15 in the second half – and added eight rebounds in the winning effort for Rio. Junior Will Hill (Worthington, OH) added 15 points – 12 of which came after halftime – and a career-best nine rebounds for Rio.
Senior Corey Cruse (Fort Mitchell, KY) had 16 points and junior Devon Price (Pickerington, OH) handed out a game-high six assists in the win.
Thompson had 15 of his team-high 18 points in the second half to pace Asbury, while Tyler Smith finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds and Will Henderson tossed in 10 points of his own.
The Eagles shot 41 percent from the field overall (25-for-61) and had just eight turnovers, but connected on only three of 15 three-point attempts in addition to being outrebounded. AU entered the game averaged over 12 made three-pointers per outing.
Rio Grande returns to action on Thursday night when it opens a two-game weekend road trip at Indiana University-Kokomo. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.