Updated Thu, Jan 2, 2014 11:50 am
Rio Grande (8-5) will ring in a new year of Mid-South Conference action on Thursday evening when it travels to Williamsburg, Ky., to face the Cumberlands (8-3). The RedStorm look to snap the Cumberlands’ three-game win streak and hope to extend their streak to two.
Aside from a neutral site loss to Southeastern and non-conference losses to Division I opponents Marshall and Central Florida, Rio Grande has posted a 1-1 record on the road so far this season. The RedStorm defeated Ohio Christian 70-63 in early December but fell 63-61 to Taylor in overtime.
After an eight-day hiatus for the holidays, Rio Grande returned to the hardwood to host Cincinnati-Clermont on Monday night for their last non-conference game of the season. Senior point guard Jermaine Warmack knocked down a pair of clutch free throws with 3.3 seconds left in the game to narrowly defeat the Cougars 94-92, snapping a three-game losing streak. Rio Grande had to claw away at a 13-point deficit in order to come back to win. This has been a common theme for a young RedStorm squad who has struggled defensively recently, giving up 92 points in each of its past two games.
“We know we are going to have to defend a lot better going into conference play,” head coach Ken French said. “We are going to have to play a lot better on the defensive end and have more intensity.”
Despite defensive struggles, Rio Grande found success on the scoring end. Freshman forward Bilal Young had a career night that earned him team highs in four different categories, which included 18 points, nine rebounds, three assists and three steals. Evan Legg netted 13 points while Travis Elliot, Phillip Hertz, and Josh Reagan added 14 points apiece.
“I think there is one thing that has been able to keep our head above water and that is our balance,” French said. “We have had multiple guys step up at different times.”
Since joining the MSC in the 2009-10 season, Rio Grande has struggled to beat conference foe Cumberlands. Rio has posted a 2-6 record against the Patriots over the past four seasons. Rio Grande snapped a string of 38 straight league losses and earned its first MSC victory over the Cumberlands on Jan. 6, 2012. The most recent victory over the Cumberlands came last February when D.D. Joiner scored five of his career-high 42 points in the second overtime period to lead Rio Grande to a thrilling 78-69 victory. Joiner’s 42 points established a new MSC single-game high for the season. MSC players have failed to score over 40 points since Joiner’s performance.
While Rio Grande starts to rebound, the Cumberlands (8-3) looks to continue its red-hot winning streak. The Patriots started their season off rough, falling to Indiana Southeast and Southern Poly in their opening stanza but have since won eight of their last nine contests. The Cumberlands fell 75-72 to conference rival Georgetown College on Nov. 21 but have since won four straight games including its most recent 91-62 rout over Union College on Dec. 14.
“We match up well. Our teams are familiar in schemes and in what we’re trying to do and style of play,” French said. “They’re one of the best defending teams in our league.”
Rio Grande and the Cumberlands match up very similarly on paper. The Patriots average 81 points per game while the RedStorm accumulate 82. The Cumberlands only gives up an average of 69 points per contest while Rio allows an average of 75.
Tipoff is set for 8 p.m. in the O. Wayne Rollins center.