Point Park Women Lose Important Contest To Rio Grande


Point Park center Baylee Buleca was a big part of the Pioneers first half comeback effort however the team fell short falling to Rio Grande 73-61. Photo courtesy Stephen Pope

The receiving votes Point Park University women’s basketball team dropped its second consecutive home game to fellow receiving votes team Rio Grande, 73-61, Tuesday at CCAC-South Gym.

This match-up featured two Top-30 teams in nation as Point Park (21-4, 8-3 KIAC) inched up in the NAIA Division II Top 25 Poll released Tuesday to No. 26 overall. Meanwhile, Rio Grande (21-6, 10-1 KIAC) moved up to the No. 29 position.

More from Pittsburgh Sports

The game was a showdown of the top two teams in the KIAC North Division and an important game in deciding the division title and quite possibly the outright KIAC regular season championship and the automatic bid to the NAIA Division II national tournament that comes with it.

In the end, it was Rio Grande that won its 12th straight game and its 10th straight KIAC game to take a 2.0 game division lead over second-place Point Park with three games to go for each team.

“They outplayed us and played much harder than us, which is disappointing,” Point Park coach Tony Grenek said. “We missed countless layups, and that’s how you lose. We didn’t deserve to win tonight, and Rio Grande did.”

Junior forward Ja’Nia McPhatter’s 19 points led Point Park while sophomore guard Kelly Johnson added 12 points. Other contributions included junior guard Alexa Xenakis’ nine points and senior guard Kayla Kiriau’s eight-point, seven-rebound performance.

Rio Grande was led by guard Sarah Bonar’s 19 points and nine rebounds. Guards Brianna Thomas (15 points) and Sharday Baines (12 points) both contributed to the win.

Forward Alexis Payne had a double-double with 18 points and 16 rebounds while forward Brooke Marcum had 16 rebounds in addition to seven points. Both combined for 32 rebounds, which was as many as the Pioneers had as a team.

The Red Storm out-rebounded the Pioneers, 54-32, to dominate in that department. Rio Grande held a 52-40 advantage points in the paint and an 18-4 edge second-chance points.

“This is a great environment, Point Park is just so talented, loaded and athletic I think we’re just playing very well right now,” Rio Grande coach David Smalley said.

“Our kids just seem to keep getting better and better. We lost six games earlier in the year, and Point Park beat us last time by four and turned us over mercifully. Everything pointed to this game, we had no answer for McPhatter, we could not hold her down. If you’re watching that game, you had to enjoy because it was good to watch and stressful to coach.”

Rio Grande scored the opening points 13 seconds into the game, led from start to finish and opened the game on a 23-13 run with 10:35 to play in the first half.

Down 12 with under six minutes to play in the first half, Grenek inserted freshman center Baylee Buleca. She scored all six of her points in the first half on 3 for 3 shooting. Her first basket, which came on an assist from Johnson, opened up the Pioneers offense as the Pioneers went on a 15-7 run to cut the Red Storm lead to 36-32 at halftime.

“She kept us in the ballgame in that first half, she did a great job for us,” said Grenek of Buleca.

Point Park scored the first three points of the second half cutting its deficit to one point, the closest it got all game, 36.35.

However, Rio Grande quickly responded with six points over the next two minutes to bring the lead back up to seven points, all of those points came on the inside, where the RedStorm asserted its size advantage.

Even though Rio Grande led all 40 minutes, it was a battle thorough out. The Pioneers cut the RedStorm lead to two twice with the last occasion coming at the 9:16 mark mark, 50-48 on a great inside move by McPhatter.

After that, Rio Grande began to pull away going on a 12-4 run in the next 3:01 to take its first double digit lead of the second half, 62-52 with 6:15 to go. The run included a 3-point play from Payne, a trey by Baines after an offensive rebound and a pair of free throws by Payne on second-chance opportunity.

The Pioneers cut the lead to as few as six points after that, however, Marcum made a layup to extend the lead to eight points with 4:52 left.

But Point Park was unable to answer and as a result lost its first set of back-to-back home games ever in Grenek’s time with the team. It was also the first time since the 2010-11 season when the Pioneers lost to Malone and Notre Dame on Jan. 27 and Jan. 29, 2011 that they lost consecutive home games.

The Rio Grande victory gives the Red Storm a two game lead with three games to play and Rio Grande currently owns the tie breaker between the two teams as it holds a 1-0 record against the next highest seed Asbury whereas the Pioneers are 0-1 against Asbury.

“This was an instrumental game, not just for Rio Grande, but for Point Park as well,” Smalley said. “Coach Grenek does a great job at Point Park, and both of our teams have positioned themselves to where they are getting respect at the national level and that will continue regardless of the outcome of this game.”

The Pioneers did receive NAIA recognition shortly after the start of the contest as Kelly Johnson was recognized as NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball National Player of the Week based upon her performances from the week of Feb. 2-8.

Johnson averaged 32 points, 8.0 assists, 6.5 steals, and 5.5 rebounds per game during the time frame, which included a career high 33 points Feb. 3 at Carlow. Johnson is the second KIAC women’s basketball player in the past three weeks as freshman guard Tia King from IU East was recognized on Jan. 27.

“It’s nice,” said Grenek. “She’s probably the first women’s player in our school’s history to be recognized. Still we are not really about individual efforts, we are about team efforts, but it’s great for her, and I’m very happy for her. Hopefully it will happen again for us or another player someday.”


Point Park will next travel to play IU Kokomo Saturday at 5 pm. Earlier this season, the two teams played for the first time as IU Kokomo women’s basketball is in its first season. The Pioneers won 88-55 Jan. 10 at CCAC South.

He said it: “Every time we play at home, it’s like we’re going to a funeral or something, we have absolutely no energy. Heck every time we play on the road, I feel we play harder. That’s two home games in a row that we got smacked on our home court and that’s inexcusable. Tonight is very disappointing but hats off to Rio Grande they played great.” – A frustrated coach Tony Grenek on his team’s recent play at home

My take: This is an extremely disappointing loss for Point Park as it all but certainly means that Rio Grande has won the regular season title which means it has earned the first of two conference berths to the NAIA Division II National Tournament. This is a very crushing loss for Point Park however at the same time, in Grenek’s time with the team the Pioneers have relished being the underdogs. Now they can play with that chip on their shoulder, which is usually when the team gets its best results. Grenek has always said the right things to his team, now it is on them to respond. The rest of the schedule (at IU Kokomo, vs Carlow and vs IU East) is very winnable and needs to be used as a launching pad for a third consecutive KIAC Tournament. Point Park will have to win the tournament to earn a berth in the national tournament and a return trip to Sioux City, IA. Yes it is undersized, but the Pioneers have a lot of heart and players understand their respective roles. I am interested to see how Point Park responds on this trip considering the women are making a six plus hour bus ride nearly a week after a 4.5 hour drive. This has been the norm for the season and as established in previous posts can get exhausting. If the team can suck it up and play 40 minutes on Saturday then I believe it will set up a very good chance of running the table to Iowa.

More from City of Champions