By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
BLUEFIELD, Va. —
A storm blew into Bluefield on Saturday afternoon.
It was engineered, not by the weather outside, but from Josh Reagan, who scored 46 points in just 28 minutes, leading NAIA No. 20 Rio Grande to an 88-85 win over Bluefield College in a Mid-South Conference thriller at the Dome Gymnasium.
“I don’t know off hand, but I think something like the high 30s or low 40s,” said Reagan, of his previous high in a game. “My teammates found me open today so it was very easy.”
It wasn’t a barrage of 3s. He was 17-of-19 from the field, making his only 3-point try. He was also 11-for-16 from the free throw line. He was 8-for-9 with 21 points in the first half — with the lone miss being a dunk — and was 9-for-10 after the break for 25 more points.
To hear him say it, it wasn’t all that hard.
“With the way everything is in practice, I would like to think I am a little versatile when I am not lazy and sagging back,” said Reagan, who also had nine rebounds, an assist and one steal. “They found me in the open areas and I didn’t have to do nothing to advance so easy, easy.”
Too easy for Bluefield head coach Richard Morgan, whose Rams matched Rio Grande (14-6, 7-2) by making 51.6 percent (32-62) of their shot attempts, but had no answers for the 6-foot-6 Reagan, who lowered his head and repeatedly drove to the basket, while drawing just one foul in the game.
“We knew it coming in that he was a tough player, but I didn’t think our guys would play that soft on him,” Morgan said. “I knew he was a banger and a tough guy, and we just didn’t match his intensity today.”
Kearsten Marion was equally potent for Bluefield (9-7, 3-6), scoring 27 points, including 15 after the break, while fellow guard Andrew Wilson added 12 points, seven assists and three steals.
“Marion just hit big shots, we knew that going into it,” Rio Grande head coach Ken French said. “We had a 17-point lead down here last year and they came back and beat us in overtime.
“We knew what they were like in this building and the two guards can really shoot it. He hit a big shot late, they won’t go away and that is a credit to Coach (Morgan). They have got a lot of heart and passion and they play hard.”
There were 13 lead changes and 10 ties in the game, with the Red Storm building an 11-point advantage with 7:53 left in the second half, but the Rams fought back to tie the score at 80-80 on a 3 by Marcus Richardson with 1:25 on the clock.
“Their guards are super athletic, you have got to hand it to them,” Reagan said. “Once we were up 10 or 11 they didn’t give us anything so my hats off to them. They had a heck of a game. I wouldn’t say a moral victory, but they did very good.”
Reagan followed with another drive to the hoop and the RedStorm went 6-for-6 from the free throw line, four by Reagan and two by Jermaine Warmack, who quietly had 12 points and 14 assists.
“Jermaine is a senior...” said French, who played two years of baseball at Bluefield College. “He has been through the battles and tonight for him to have 14 assists was huge. He makes us go.”
Reagan doesn’t hurt either. A transfer from Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland Ohio, Reagan became eligible when the second semester began, and the RedStorm is 7-2 since then, and they are nationally ranked.
“He gives us a toughness that we didn’t have. Since he has been eligible he has played well,” French said. “It has given our team a different dynamic on the inside that we didn’t have before to balance out with our shooters.
“He is a good player, he was a good player coming out of junior college. We are very fortunate to add him to our program and he plays hard and plays well and when he plays like tonight he can put the ball in the hole.”
Reagan, who averaged nearly 27 points a game last season at Cuyahoga, scored 36 points in a recent win over Campbellsville, but raised it by 10 against the Rams.
“I think I have given them a little toughness down low,” said Reagan, with a smile. “There are some times I feel like I almost cost them with my stupid acts, but I think when we all play together we are a very good team.”
Rio Grande was picked to finish 10th in the 10-team Mid-South, but are now sitting in second place behind Pikeville with a 7-2 league mark.
“It is a very good league, we were picked 10th so we are doing something a lot of people didn’t expect us to do,” French said. “I have got a lot of respect for Coach Morgan here and their program and what they are going through.
“They are like us, we are not funded like everybody else and we looking to go back to NAIA Division II. I have a lot of respect, they are a good team in this league, a very good team.”
Bluefield also received 16 points and 14 rebounds from Josh Nesbit, who hit a basket to tie the score at 43-43 at the break. Alex Lubsey added nine points and two highlight reel blocked shots for the Rams.
Rio Grande quickly built a 59-48 lead in the second half, led by all 11 points from Philip Hertz, who promptly fouled out with 12:09 on the clock. The Rams were able to negate some of the Red Storm weapons, but certainly not Reagan.
“...to let the other guy come in and get 46 points,” Morgan said. “That is unheard of for Bluefield College basketball.”
Bluefield whittled the lead down to 62-58 when Reagan took over, scoring 20 of the RedStorm’s 27 remaining points in the final 9:53, taking the ball to the hole with little resistance from the Rams.
“If I am open I look to score, but I like to think I am a pass-first player even though it might not look like it,” he said, with a smile. “That is what I like to think.”
Bluefield fell behind 72-61 with just over seven minutes to go when Marion got hot, making 13 points, including three of his five 3s. Bluefield made nine 3s to seven for the RedStorm, while the Rams were outscored at the free throw line 17-12.
“They play hard, they play to the end,” said Morgan, of his Rams. “I think we are past that point, which is good. Five years later we are at the point where we can battle with all the teams in this league down the stretch.
“I am pretty happy, but we have got to start winning these ball games if we want to make a push for the next level.”
It was Bluefield’s third loss to ranked teams this season. One of those was a three-point decision against now-No. 4 Pikeville, who the Rams will face next Thursday on the road.
“We can’t over the top and get one this year,” said Morgan, whose Rams defeated eventual NAIA national champion Georgetown last season. “We got one last year, and didn’t get one thus far this year.
“We have got to get ready and go down and meet Pikeville and get ready for them and they are going to be waiting for us. They play Monday night so maybe that will help us a little bit by them playing while we are here just getting better in the gym.
“We are going to go in there and play hard and do what we need to do to get the ‘W’.”
Contact Brian Woodson at email@example.com