Bonar, Thomas fuel season-opening win

Junior guard Bri Thomas had
24 points and seven assists in
her Rio Grande debut.

Rio Grande Sports Information

RIO GRANDE, Ohio  Sporting a roster loaded with all kinds of new faces, the University of Rio Grande women's basketball team delivered an offensive explosion that RedStorm followers hadn't seen in almost three years.

Head coach David Smalley's squad narrowly missed setting a new school record for points in a game, parlaying a career-best effort from Sarah Bonar and a dazzling debut from Brianna Thomas into a 113-98 win over Wilberforce University, Tuesday night, in non-conference action from the Newt Oliver Arena.

The victory was also the program's 700th all-time triumph and its 12th consecutive opening game win.

The 113 points marked the first time that Rio eclipsed the 100-point mark since a 107-80 win over Southwestern University on December 28, 2010 as part of the Grand Canyon Classic in Phoenix, Ariz.

The RedStorm's final tally also came up just short of the school record of 120 points set, ironically, against Wilberforce on November 16, 1993. Their 59 second half points were four points shy of the school record of 63 against Urbana University on January 22, 1991.

"From where we've come from to where we are now, I told them as long as we scored 113 that I didn't care if we gave up 112," said Smalley, who picked up his 425th career victory as head coach. "We did some things that created some issues for them, but Wilberforce isn't a bad shooting team. They kept hitting shots and cashing in at the free throw line, but we were able to stay out in front."

Bonar, a sophomore forward from Hartford, Ohio, connected on 13 of her 19 field goal attempts en route to a career-high 32 points. She also had a game-high eight rebounds and three steals for Rio Grande, which never trailed.

Thomas, a junior transfer from Maplewood, N.J., netted 24 points in her RedStorm debut. She also finished with a game-best seven assists and tied Bonar's game-high three steals.

The Bulldogs (0-3) twice shaved an early 13-point deficit down to just two points, but the RedStorm managed to weather the storm of first half foul troubles to regain a 13-point edge, 54-41, at the intermission.

Wilberforce, an old rival of Rio's from their days as joint members of the old Mid-Ohio Conference and America Mideast Conference, again closed the gap to eight points on three different occasions inside the first three minutes of the second half, but the RedStorm reeled off 12 consecutive points over a span of 1:52 to open up a 20-point cushion, 72-52, following a bucket by senior guard Kate Hammond (Bakersfield, CA) with 15:15 remaining in the contest.

The Bulldogs trailed by as many as 26 points and got no closer than 11 points the rest of the way, closing the game on a 16-6 run to set the final score.

Hammond and sophomore forward Julia Heaberlin (Ashland, KY) added 14 and 10 points, respectively, for Rio Grande, which shot 53.8 percent (42-for-78) for the game.

The RedStorm also nailed 24 of their 26 free throw attempts (92.3%) and outrebounded their guests, 47-31.

"The biggest positive was that everybody on this squad saw crucial minutes in the first half tonight and I thought they all played pretty well and contributed," Smalley said. "I think Bri Thomas showed people tonight that she's pretty good and Sarah - that's the Sarah Bonar we envisioned seeing last season, and that's not taking anything away from what she did last year. It was a good effort from everybody."

Wilberforce had five players finish in double figures, with Dominique Fischer's 31-point effort leading the way. She also had a team-high five assists.

Danisha Brown and Kendra Moss added 18 points each in a losing cause, while Brittani Thomas and J'Neiya Burton netted 10 points each. Burton also had a team-high six rebounds.

Rio Grande returns to action Saturday when Miami-Middletown visits for a 5 p.m. tipoff as part of the Saunders Insurance Tipoff Classic. The game will follow the RedStorm men's game against Indiana-Kokomo, which is slated for a 3 p.m. tip.