MARION, Ind. - Despite being short-handed, banged up and the third seed in a three-team pod, the University of Rio Grande men’s basketball team made it clear that going away quietly was not part of its gameplan.
But when all was said and done, grittiness alone couldn’t get the RedStorm a victory.
Head coach Ryan Arrowood’s club erased a 12-point second half deficit with just over five minutes to play, but Indiana University South Bend regrouped and pulled away again for an 82-71 victory, Friday night, in the opening round of the NAIA Men’s Basketball National Championship.
The game was part of the Marion “B” Bracket at Indiana Wesleyan University’s Luckey Arena.
IU South Bend, the No. 2 seed in the bracket, improved to 7-0 and advanced to Saturday’s title game against top-seeded - and top-ranked - Indiana Wesleyan.
Rio Grande finished 16-10 with the loss in a game which featured eight ties and 10 lead changes.
The RedStorm, who were making their first national tournament appearance since 2003, led by as many as four points in the game’s opening moments, but trailed by as many as 11 later in the half before settling on a 44-34 deficit at the intermission.
The Titans pushed their lead to 12 points three different times in the first two minutes of the second half, but Rio Grande began methodically chipping away and eventually forged a trio of ties before finally regaining a lead, 64-63, following a three-point goal by freshman Redeetris Richardson (Atlanta, GA) with 5:01 remaining in the contest.
The lead was short-lived, though.
IUSB got a three-pointer from Sergio Diaz on its ensuing possession to grab a 66-64 cushion and never trailed again.
It was still a one-possession game after a bucket by Rio freshman Andrew Shull (Milton, WV) with 2:57 left made it 71-68, but the Titans scored 11 of the game’s final 14 points - including a 7-for-8 showing at the free throw line inside the final minute - to nail down the win.
IU South Bend shot 61.3 percent in the first half (19-for-31) and 52.5 percent for the game (31-for-59).
The Titans also went 11-for-13 at the free throw line (84.6%), while committing just five turnovers and out rebounding the RedStorm, 34-29.
Miles Tracy, Dylan Allen and Donnell Meredith, II all had 19 points in the winning effort. Tracy finished 9-for-9 from the floor.
Norell Smith added 10 points and a team-high six rebounds for IUSB, while Meredith also had six rebounds to go along with a pair of steals and two blocked shots.
Rio Grande connected on 45.9 percent of its shots overall (28-for-61), including a 12-for-32 performance from three-point range.
The RedStorm, who again played without the services of their injured leading scorer, sophomore swingman Miki Tadic (Hilversum, The Netherlands), had just seven turnovers of their own, but went to the free throw line just five times (3-for-5).
Sophomore Shiloah Blevins (South Webster, OH) led a quartet of double-digit scorers with 19 points, despite missing time during the second half comeback after appearing to aggravate a previous ankle injury.
Senior Cam Schreiter (Mason, OH), who was seeing his first action since suffering a concussion in the opening minute of a win over Point Park University in the semifinal round of the River States Conference Tournament, fueled much of the comeback effort and finished with 17 points of his own.
Shull, who played hurt in RSC tourney wins over Midway and Point Park before sitting out the championship game meeting with WVU-Tech, netted 16 points after getting his ankle out of a cast earlier in the week.
Richardson completed the double-digit scoring list with 13 points, while also yanking down a game-high 10 rebounds in a losing cause.
Freshman Caleb Wallis (Jackson, OH) handed out a game-high four assists in the loss.
Rio Grande’s 16 wins represented its most in a season since the 2015-16 team finished 17-14.