Updated Sun, Nov 17, 2013 3:05 pm
The Rio Grande RedStorm (3-1) could not overcome a 15-point halftime deficit as they suffered their first loss of the season to the Cincinnati Christian Eagles (4-2). The RedStorm lost 87-80 in the championship game of the Bevo Francis Invitational Tournament at the Newt Oliver Arena.
A strong first half gave the Eagles a lead they would not relinquish as the RedStorm remained without arguably their best player D.D. Joiner. Despite a furious RedStorm comeback in the second half, Rio could not quite make up for its defensive breakdown.
Before the game, Rio Grande head coach Ken French talked about containing the Eagles offense.
“Our biggest thing today is to get back in transition and make them work for everything they’re going to get. I think our ball pressure has to be good and if we communicate we’ll give them some problems defensively,” French said.
The RedStorm were unable to carry out their defensive goals early on as the Eagles shot an impressive 69 percent from the field in the first half making 20 out of their first 29 shots. Leading the charge for Cincinnati Christian was senior guard Michael Hill who had a game-high 30 points. Cincinnati Christian went into halftime with a 15-point lead. The RedStorm, however, fought the entire game and went on a 14-4 run to start the second half. Rio pulled within two points with 3:27 left in the game, but it was unable to get any closer as Cincinnati Christian scored six straight points to take a 79-71 lead with only 1:03 reaming.
Rio Grande forward Phillip Hertz came into the tournament leading the Mid-South Conference with 24 points a game and did not disappoint against the Eagles. Hertz scored a team-high 21 points in the title game while guards Ricky Tisdale and Evan Legg had 13 points apiece.
The Tisdale-Legg combination, however, was overshadowed by Hill’s 30 points. The Eagles also had a solid game from post player Kenny Gaynor and guard Nick Seibert who scored 14 apiece while Mitch McLeish had a game-high 12 rebounds.
After losing its star player D.D. Joiner to injury, the RedStorm have had trouble finding someone to fill the void.
“It’s tough right now. D.D. won’t play today and we really don’t have a timetable to get him back and that handicaps us,” Rio head coach Ken French said before the game. “We’re without out best player and we’re going to have to have some guys step up.”
Although they had four players score in double figures, the RedStorm did not have anyone step up until the second half. Joiner’s presence was sorely missed and he remains day-to-day with his foot injury.
The biggest disappointment for Rio was losing its own tournament on its home court.
“We talked about it all the time,” French said. “It’s our tournament. We need to make it our weekend and it’s a great opportunity to move to 4-0.”
Unfortunately for the RedStorm, they could not capture the championship and picked up their first loss for the 2013-14 season.
Rio looks to get back in the win column as it returns to action Thursday night. The RedStorm host Cumberland University in their MSC opener with tipoff set for 8 p.m.