RIO GRANDE, Ohio – With a Mid-South Conference Championship and No. 1 conference tournament seed already wrapped up, the University of Pikeville men’s basketball team played like they hadn’t heard any of it, routing No. 19 Rio Grande (Ohio) 111-91 on Saturday at Newt Oliver Arena.
A few of the goals may be wrapped up, but the Bears (25-2, 15-1 MSC) have their sights set on obtaining the best seed possible at the national tournament and Saturday’s performance against a top-25 team should go a long way with the voters.
Credit Josh Whitaker with giving UPIKE a boost of energy to turn a first-half battle into a runaway by halftime. The senior scored a career-high 26 points to lead all scorers while also handing out five assists without a turnover. Whitaker was 3-of-6 from 3-point range.
Keala King, putting together an efficient 9-of-13 showing from the field, added 21 points and Bruce Reed nearly added another 20-point scorer with 19 to go along with five boards. The Bears controlled the glass 47-34 and shot a lights-out 56.6 percent from the field to control the game.
The RedStorm (16-11, 9-7 MSC) never led in the game, but the Bears’ advantage was just five at 33-28 with eight minutes left in the first half. Whitaker connected on his third three four minutes later, but it only put UPIKE up 46-39.
But at that point, the Bears’ pressure defense stepped up and the game’s pace simply got away from Rio Grande as it fell behind by 20 in a hurry and eventually took a 59-35 deficit into the break.
Life never got any better on the court for the RedStorm in the final 20 minutes as the Bears were just too good, leading by as many as 34 points before Rio Grande cut it down to 20 in the final minutes with the Pikeville starters on the bench.
Two games remain for UPIKE, with Campbellsville (Ky.) up next at 8 p.m. on Thursday at the East Kentucky Expo Center.