Updated Fri, Feb 7, 2014 11:46 pm
A week off in the daunting Mid-South Conference is not necessarily a bad thing for the No. 19 Rio Grande RedStorm (15-7, 8-3). After an exhilarating and physically demanding 99-96 overtime win over Cumberlands last Saturday, the RedStorm resume MSC action on the road as they take on the Shawnee State Bears (8-14, 2-9) Saturday afternoon at Waller Gymnasium.
Prior to its week off, Rio Grande had a four-game stretch between Jan. 23 and Feb. 1 in which it faced four conference foes, including two in the top-25 standings. The RedStorm escaped the tough week stretch with a 2-2 record and remain a top-25 team in Division I of the NAIA.
After defeating their first three nationally-ranked opponents in the MSC, the RedStorm fell on Jan. 23 to No. 2 Pikeville, 96-78. The RedStorm were able to rebound from the loss, winning two of their next three games.
The win over Cumberlands last week kept Rio in the top-25 but it still fell five spots from No. 14 to No. 19. Since, the RedStorm have had a week to prepare for the Bears who rank eighth in overall defense holding opponents to a field goal average of 39.5 percent.
The contest against Shawnee State marks Rio’s first of three straight away games, its longest road stretch of the season.
The RedStorm cannot afford a loss to the Bears if they hope to stay in the discussion as the best team in the MSC. Shawnee State is currently on a five-game skid and is in last place in league standings with only two conference wins.
The Bears have dropped eight of their last nine games including a tight 78-77 loss to the RedStorm back on Jan. 11. Rio trailed by one point in the final seconds until two free throws from junior guard Travis Elliot with 3.1 seconds left gave Rio Grande the win.
In their first matchup, the RedStorm kept the game close for and played to the strength of the Bears. Rio shot just under 40 percent from the field, allowing Shawnee State to nearly pull off the upset.
In order to avoid another close game with the Bears, the RedStorm need a strong performance from their explosive offense, which has scored 90 or more points seven times this season. A big reason for the success is the emergence of Josh Reagan, a two-time MSC Player of the Week who leads the RedStorm with 21.3 points per game.
To compliment Reagan is senior Jermaine Warmack who leads the team in assists and steals per game. Warmack also became the 25th member in school history to eclipse 1,000 career points last Thursday.
A loss to the worst team in the conference could be detrimental to the RedStorm. A week of preparation, however, allows a refreshed Rio Grande squad to take the road challenge head on against the struggling Bears.