The Brescia Bearcats came into Tuesday's game riding a three-game winning streak, holding their last three KIAC opponents to 60, 60, and 61 points respectively. Duplicating that kind of defensive performance would prove to be difficult as they hosted the explosive Red Storm of the University of Rio Grande from the KIAC's North Division. The Red Storm entered the night fresh off of a 12-point win over Cincinnati Christian University on Saturday and came into the game 14-7 overall and averaging 91 points-per-game.
In front of a raucous crowd, both teams came out of the gate with a lot of defensive intensity and energy in an entertaining first half. The Bearcats roared to an eight-point lead, 21-13, at the 9:55 mark on a three-point play from Trey Howard. The Red Storm answered back with a quick 7-0 run of their own, cutting the lead to one (21-20) at the 7:07 mark on a three-pointer from Evan Legg. Neither team could create much space for the rest of the half, and the Red Storm took a one-point lead into the locker room (36-35) at the conclusion of a first half that saw five ties and seven lead changes.
In the first half, Rio Grande shot 14-34 (41.2%) from the floor, 4-7 (57.1%) from three-point range, and 4-6 (66.7%) from the foul line. Brescia went 13-30 (43.3%) from the field, 2-7 (28.6%) from deep, and a perfect 7-7 (100%) from the free throw line.
The two teams traded blows at the beginning of the second half, with neither squad able to push the lead past the two possession point until Tyler Davis hit a two-point basket at the 10:37 mark to give the Red Storm a 7-point advantage. Rio kept the Bearcats at bay for several minutes, maintaining a four to seven-point advantage until Trey Howard hit a shot with 4:31 remaining that sparked a Brescia rally. A bucket by Austin Morris with 2:01 remaining completed the 7-0 spurt for the Bearcats and tied the game at 75. The two teams traded baskets until DeCarlos Collier got a steal for Brescia with less than ten seconds left, leading 78-77. Trey Howard was fouled with five seconds remaining, and calmly sank both free throws to give the home team a three-point lead, 80-77. On the ensuing inbounds play, Rio got the ball in the hands of freshman Will Hill. Hill dribbled the length of the court and pulled up for a contested three-point shot, which he nailed to tie the contest at 80 with 0.7 seconds remaining. Brescia inbounded the ball and got off a heave from half-court that missed the mark, sending the game to overtime.
In overtime, the Bearcats wasted little time in taking control of the game as Austin Morris connected on a basket only eight seconds into the frame. Rio Grande tied the game on a Corey Cruse basket and briefly retook a slim one-point lead on a Will Hill free throw, but from there it was all Brescia. After a made free throw by Austin Morris tied the game for the 12th time, the Bearcats got a defensive stop and Kyle Nixon connected on a huge three-pointer in transition to give the lead back to the home team, 86-83. Brescia followed that possession up with another defensive stop and a well-executed play that resulted in an open 15-foot jumper for Kyle Wilgus, which the senior drained to extend the Bearcats lead to five. From that point on, the Red Storm never got any closer than four points, and Brescia sealed the game at the free throw line to pull away slightly and win by the final margin of 97-89.
In what was expected to be a battle of big men between 6-10 junior Dwayne Bazemore of Rio and 6-7 junior Austin Morris of Brescia, the two post players didn't disappoint. Bazemore posted a double-double of 16 points and 10 rebounds while Morris led all scorers with a game-high 32 points along with 10 boards of his own and 5 blocked shots.
Rio Grande was led on the night by D.D. Joiner's 24-point, 7-rebound effort. He was joined in double-figures by Bazemore and senior Evan Legg, who hit 6 three-pointers on his way to 19 points. For the game, Rio Grande shot 33-73 (45.2%) from the field, 10-19 (52.6%) from three-point range, and 13-22 (59.1%) from the free throw line.
Austin Morris' monster night led the Bearcats effort, but as is usually the case with Brescia, he was not just a one-man show. Three other teammates joined him in double-digits with Trey Howard pouring in 19 points while grabbing 5 rebounds. Despite only playing 16 minutes due to foul trouble, junior Jermain Langley scored an efficient 13 points on 5-6 shooting from the floor and pulled down 5 boards of his own. Kyle Nixon was the fourth Bearcat in double-figures, nailing 4-5 three-point attempts for 12 points. On the night, the Bearcats shot a crisp 33-62 (53.2%) from the floor and 5-10 (50%) from behind the arc, along with 26-34 (76.5%) from the charity stripe.
Coach Gibson on the win: "Rio Grande is a very talented and very well-coached team. We knew from film and our game preparation that this would be an absolute battle between two hungry teams and nothing would come easy. I am proud of the mentality and toughness that we brought to the game tonight. We fought through foul trouble and some huge shots by their team, but we stayed together, kept working, and never got our heads down. The gym was packed and our fans were outstanding, which made for a great environment that helped keep our energy high. At this point in the year, the marathon becomes a sprint to the finish, so we need to play our best six games of the year in our final six games down the stretch. We will have a couple of days off to recover physically before we get back after it and begin preparation for IU-Kokomo, which will be another tough KIAC game on the road."
Brescia has a full week between games and will return to action next Tuesday night, February 3rd, when they travel to IU-Kokomo to play their final KIAC North Division opponent of the regular season at 8:00pm eastern time.