Updated Wed, Feb 19, 2014 6:00 pm
With only four games remaining in the regular season, Rio Grande finds itself holding onto the final qualifying spot for the Mid-South Conference Tournament. The top eight teams in the conference make the tournament, and the RedStorm (16-10, 5-9 MSC) sit in eighth place. The sixth through ninth place teams, however, are all separated by just one game.
One of those teams is the Bluefield College Rams (12-11, 6-8 MSC). The Rams are currently the sixth seed in the conference. On Thursday night, the RedStorm will host Bluefield College with a chance to move up in the tight MSC standings.
The last times these two teams matched up Rio Grande was held to its third-lowest scoring total of the season. The Rams fed off their strong defensive performance en route to a 75-67 victory. Much of Bluefield College’s defensive success stems from its ability to defend the rim. The Rams rank third in NAIA Division I in blocks per game with 5.3 and sixth in total blocks with 123. Junior center Destiny Tolliver leads the charge with just over two blocks per game.
On the offensive end, the Rams are spearheaded by a trio of upperclassmen. Seniors Tega McNeal and Janee Simmons along with junior Asia Wheeler all average double-digit scoring numbers. McNeal leads the team with 16.5 points per game.
Rio Grande will need a better outside shooting performance this time in order to beat the Rams. Last game, the RedStorm missed all 10 of their attempted shots from beyond the arc. The RedStorm are, however, fresh off of a win over St. Catharine in which Rio’s duo of freshmen forwards both recorded double-doubles. Alexis Payne finished with 17 points and 12 rebounds while Brooke Marcum added 12 points and 17 rebounds.
Rio Grande assistant coach Brandon Bias is hoping that the RedStorm will be able to carry the momentum from the St. Catharine game into the matchup against Bluefield College.
“We treated the St. Catharine game as a must-win game and that’s how we need to look at the rest of the games this season,” Bias said. “We need to attack these next four games and have winning be our sole focus.”
That focus will be put to the test when the RedStorm tip off against the Rams on Thursday at 6 p.m.