Updated Wed, Feb 19, 2014 4:59 pm
Road victories in the Mid-South Conference are tough to come by. A month ago, Rio Grande was riding a six-game winning streak last month and sat atop the conference. After losing three games on the road and posting a 3-4 record, the RedStorm are now in a position where they are fighting to inch their way back into the top of the conference.
No. 15 Rio Grande (16-9, 9-5) will return home on Thursday night to face Bluefield (12-10, 5-9) with a chance to gain momentum heading into the final stretch of the regular season.
Offensive firepower and a loud home crowd have fueled Rio Grande so far this season. During its six-game winning streak in January, the RedStorm averaged 86.6 points per game but they were held well below that mark in its last two losses.
The road hasn’t been generous to the RedStorm, having posted a 5-4 record away from Newt Oliver Arena. The Campbellsville Tigers erased a 14-point second half deficit and knocked off the RedStorm, 83-80, on Feb. 13. Two days after, Rio Grande fell to St. Catharine, 78-63, despite D.D. Joiner’s 17-point performance.
“Campbellsville came back and got us and we kind of let that frustration carry over into Saturday’s game against St. Catharine,” head coach Ken French said. “We just didn’t play well on the road.”
The Bluefield Rams sit amongst the bottom teams in the MSC but have proven they have a fireball sizzling inside them. Rio Grande came out on the top last time they face the Rams on the road with an 88-85 nail-biter. Rio and Bluefield tied the game five times in the first half of their last matchup. The entire Rams squad found their groove early on as seven players scored in the first half. Meanwhile, Josh Reagan, D.D Joiner and Jermaine Warmack carried the weight for the RedStorm. Reagan finished the night with a season-high 46 points while Bluefield guard Kearston Marion led the way for the Rams with 27.
The Rams start two guards and three forwards which allows them to display a big presence of athleticism at the tip off. Junior guard Andrew Wilson fed the ball to Marion seven times in the last matchup and poured in 12 points of his own. 6-foot-7 forward Josh Nesbit leads the Rams in rebounds and brought down 14 boards in their meeting in January.
“Their starting five is as good as anyone in the league,” French said. “They’re lethal in transition so we’ve got to do a good job in transition defense.”
One of the RedStorms’ mottos has been bouncing back from a loss to avoid consecutive losses. Unfortunately the team could not do that last week.
“We can’t let two games become three," French said. "We need to bounce back on Thursday and play well as a team."
Rio Grande will try just that when it hosts Bluefield in the Newt Oliver Arena on at 8 p.m.