Updated Fri, Jan 17, 2014 10:52 am
D.D. Joiner and the RedStorm can’t be stopped. Rio Grande proved why it deserved to be ranked among the best in NAIA Division I Thursday night after knocking off its third NAIA Division I ranked team and extending its win streak to five games with a 71-68 victory over the No. 14 St. Catharine Patriots.
St. Catharine applied intense ball pressure on playmaker Jermaine Warmack from the tipoff, which resulted in 14 first half turnovers. The Patriots fed the ball down low to center Raymon Austin who threw down a pair of monstrous dunks along with Omar Skinner. These plays, combined with Rio’s inability to work the ball up the court, resulted in a 10-point lead for the Patriots 10 minutes into the game.
“Early in the game I thought we weren’t very strong with the basketball,” head coach Ken French said. “We were just way too lackadaisical with the ball. In the first half we had too many turnovers and that’s very uncharacteristic of us.”
A 24-14 lead over the RedStorm served as St. Catharine’s largest lead of the contest.
Minutes later, Rio Grande’s Sterling Smoak entered the game to provide a spark for a struggling RedStorm squad. Shortly after Smoak sprinted onto the hardwood, Rio stole the ball away and fed the ball to the big man. The 6-foot-9 center used his substantial size to muscle his way to the basket and lay down a posturizing slam-dunk. A roaring feeling of hope instilled in both the hearts and souls of the players in red uniforms and the faithful RedStorm nation, who in that moment came together as one.
Evan Legg and Joiner followed Smoak’s performance in fashion. The sharp shooters established their rhythm from behind the arc on three straight 3-point shots and gave Rio its first lead of the game at 31-30. Rio continued to battle hard for the winding minutes of the half and left the court for intermission trailing St. Catharine 39-38.
It was apparent that Rio’s momentum had vanished in the early going of the second half due to two early shot-clock violations and sloppy defensive play. William Tolefree and the Patriots took advantage of Rio’s missed opportunities by rolling off an 11-0 run to start the half. Rio Grande’s troubles took a turn for worse when Legg suffered an injury five minutes into the half. After the game, Legg said via Twitter (@EvLegg11) that he is okay and will be ready for the next contest on Saturday.
Phillip Hertz hit a critical three-point shot to cut Rio Grande’s deficit to three with 9:32 remaining in the game. Joiner rattled off a handful of three-pointers and handed Rio Grande a 66-63 lead with 46.9 seconds left in the contest. Warmack was once again called upon to use his golden arm at the free-throw line. Warmack, who ranks second in the NAIA in free-throw percentage, calmly gazed at the basket with comfort and confidence in every shot he took. Skinner miraculously sunk a three-point shot from half-court range with 1.2 seconds to go, but time and luck ran out for the Patriots and the RedStorm ran away with the victory.
Josh Reagan, a former Mid-South Conference Player of the Week, was ejected from the game last Saturday and had to serve a one game suspension. After winning Freshman of the Year in the MSC last season, Joiner has endured a sophomore slump, but he knew that it was his time to step up.
“We knew we had to come together to beat them with Josh a man down,” Joiner said. “I knew I needed to come out and play hard against them because they were ranked 14th in the nation.”
French also noted that he has seen progress in Joiner and stressed his extreme confidence in the young playmaker.
“The way he’s gotten out of that struggle is by work,” French said. “Late at night he’s in the gym by himself. He had confidence and we hadn’t seen that in awhile since he got hurt earlier in the season.”
Joiner lived up to the standard he set for himself and led the RedStorm in scoring with a season-high 23 points, 15 of which came from the three-point line.
Bilal Young added 10 points for Rio in the winning effort. Four St. Catharine players scored in double-figures in the loss. Tolefree led the way with 17 points. Omar Skinner added 14 points and four assists, while Taron Franklin netted 13. Raymon Austin contributed 10 points and four blocks in the losing effort.
Rio Grande will continue its three-game home stint and look to extend its winning streak to six on Saturday afternoon as they host Campbellsville. Tipoff is set for 4 p.m. in Newt Oliver Arena.
Slideshow: Rio Grande Takes Down No. 14 Patriots 71-68
Rio Grande G Travis Elliot attacks the space in the St. Catharine defense Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014.
Travis Elliot fires a no-look pass in the RedStorm's 71-68 win over No. 14 St. Catharine Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014.
RedStorm center Sterling Smoak (50) looks to get position in the post against St. Catharine College Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014.
Guard D.D. Joiner led the RedStorm with 23 points in Thursday's come-form-behind win over No. 14 St. Catharine.
Freshman Bilal Young steps up to the line against St. Catharine Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014. The RedStorm squeaked out a 71-68 win at home.
Bilal Young hands off to teammate D.D. Joiner in Rio Grande's 71-68 victory over No. 14 St. Catharine. The two combined for 33 points on the night.
Rio Grande F Bilal Young (5) calls for the ball in Thursday's win over St. Catharine. The freshman finished with 10 points in a winning effort.
Ricky Tisdale navigates through the St. Catharine defense in the RedStorm's 3-point win Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014.
Bilal Young leads the RedStorm up the court late in their 71-68 victory over No. 14 St. Catharine Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014. The win is Rio Grande's third vs. a ranked opponent in the 2013-14 season.