Rio's Shaun Gunnell gets past Lindsey Wilson's Josh White for two of his 15 points in Friday's 51-48 loss to the Blue Raiders
Sat, Mar. 3, 2012 - [Men's Basketball]
Rio Grande Sports Information
FRANKFORT, Ky. - In a season chock full of disappointing, gut-wrenching, narrow losses, it shouldn't have come as a complete shock that the swansong for the University of Rio Grande men's basketball team to the 2011-12 campaign was one that left the RedStorm thinking about what might have been. Top-seeded Lindsey Wilson rallied from a five-point deficit with just over three minutes to play by closing the game on an 8-0 run and dealing Rio a 51-48 setback in the quarterfinal round of the Mid-South Conference Tournament, Friday afternoon, at the Frankfort Convention Center.
The Blue Raiders, ranked No. 9 in the latest NAIA Division I coaches' poll, improved to 21-9 with the victory and advances to Saturday night's semifinals against fifth-seeded University of the Cumberlands, which ousted No. 4 seed and defending national champion Pikeville in one of the other quarterfinal tilts.
The RedStorm, who reached Frankfort as the No. 9 seed after bouncing eighth-seeded Shawnee State in Monday's play-in game, finished 14-18 with the loss - its 13th of eight points or less. Ten of those 13 nailbiting losses came inside the league, including two to Lindsey Wilson.
"I thought we scrapped and outplayed them for the majority of the game," said Rio Grande head coach Ken French. "We gave ourselves a chance. They only had one guy in double figures and he was one of the guys we wanted to make beat us. Our defense was definitely good enough to win, but our offense let us down. We had too many turnovers - unforced, costly turnovers - and we outworked them, we were just offensively deficient."
Rio Grande led 48-43 with 3:15 left to play following a stickback off of an offensive rebound by senior forward Shaun Gunnell (Columbus, OH), but a Kalen Kimberland three-pointer with 2:22 remaining pulled the Blue Raiders within one and a pair of free throws by Justin Archie gave Lindsey a 49-48 advantage with 1:43 left.
Kimberland added a pair of free throws with 21.6 seconds remaining to give the Blue Raiders a three-point cushion but, following a timeout by the RedStorm, a would-be game-tying three-pointer from the left wing by Rio senior guard Brad Cubbie with three seconds left was off the mark.
Lindsey Wilson's grabbed the rebound as time expired, allowing the league's regular season champion to avoid the upset. It was the first win of the season for head coach Paul Peck's club when it managed 60 points or less.
"I have to give our guys credit," French said. "Nobody even thought we were going to be here and then we end up playing a game that we should've one. We just didn't execute down the stretch and that's my fault. We didn't get the shot that we wanted at the end and we weren't able to take advantage of some mismatches that we got."
Rio Grande scored the game's first eight points, but the Blue Raiders methodically chipped away at the deficit and grabbed their first lead, 16-14, following a jumper by Josh White with 9:25 left in the opening stanza.
Lindsey eventually enjoyed a 24-23 lead at the intermission, but the RedStorm opened the second half on a 10-3 run to take their biggest lead following the break, 33-27, after a three-pointer by junior forward Turrell Morris (Columbus, OH) with 14:16 remaining.
Rio maintained the lead until Archie's game-tying and go-ahead free throws with just under two minutes to play.
"We had the lead, but we also had a lot of empty possessions in the second half," said French. "We tried executing some different things - stuff that we'd done throughout the year - but we were way too lethargic a lot of times bringing the ball up the floor and then we'd only get one or two passes before the shot clock would start winding down. We were way too stagnant and that hurt us, particularly in the second half."
The RedStorm outshot the Blue Raiders from the field (35.1% to 34.0%) and also enjoyed a 40-30 edge in rebounding, but a 6-for-12 showing from the free throw line and 16 turnovers didn't help their cause.
Gunnell and Morris were Rio's only double-digit scorers, finishing with 15 and 12 points, respectively. Morris also had a game-high 14 rebounds and sophomore guard Jermaine Warmack (Orange, NJ) managed to hand out a game-high nine assists despite being held scoreless.
Kimberland had a game-high 16 points for Lindsey Wilson and was his team's only double-digit performer. White narrowly missed a double-double, finishing with nine points and nine rebounds.
While Friday's game was the last in a Rio uniform for Gunnell and Cubbie - as well as for senior Dominique Ngniman, who was denied his final season of eligibility thanks to a paperwork snafu on the part of his former school, West Virginia Wesleyan University - French and his staff are already looking ahead to next season and building upon the foundation that the two veterans helped to lay this season.
That foundation that included the RedStorm's first MSC win (four of them to be exact) and the program's first MSC road victory (Monday's tourney triumph at Shawnee).
"I told the guys in the lockerroom that my main goal this year was to become relevant in the conference and I think we made great strides. Where we were at the beginning of the year to where we were today is the difference between night and day," French said. "We're tougher, we play hard and we understand the game better. That comes from the three guys leaving our program. We've got a good group of guys coming back. I love these guys. Now we just have to work at finding a couple of pieces to add to the puzzle."