The Carlow men’s basketball team defeated Rio Grande, 76-70, on Saturday, Feb. 17, at Oakland Catholic, to advance to the River States Conference playoffs for the first time in program history.
Both the RedStorm (10-20/5-12) and the Celtics (6-20/6-12) entered the winner-take-all contest with a 5-11 conference record. With the victory, the Celtics finished the regular season with six conference wins and claimed the tournament’s No. 4 seed in the East Division.
Carlow will take on No. 1 Indiana University Southeast at 7:30pm Wednesday, in New Albany, Ind.
Saturday's hard-fought victory avenged a 98-66 loss at Rio Grande on Dec. 2. As the Celtics celebrated Senior Day with the postseason on the line, they made sure this matchup would be different than the first.
Before the contest, Carlow honored Zach Bryan (Irwin, Pa.), Charlie Scharbo (Jefferson Hills, Pa.), and Miles Sunder (Jeannette, Pa.) — three seniors who are the foundation of the Carlow men’s basketball program under head coach Tim Keefer. They were freshmen on the inaugural team in 2014-15 and they make up the first graduating class to spend four years with the program.
All three seniors gave strong performances against the RedStorm. Scharbo, the Celtics’ all-time leading scorer, poured in 18 points and grabbed seven rebounds, despite battling a head injury obtained earlier this week at WVU Tech. Bryan stepped up with one of his best games of the season, tallying 17 points, four assists and two steals. Sunder tallied nine points, seven rebounds, and three assists.
Rece Henneman (JR/Clarksville, Pa.) posted 10 points and five boards, Jamil Tarver (FR/Pittsburgh, Pa.) had 10 points and Tony Acrie (JR/Johnstown, Pa.) added nine points and six rebounds.
For Rio Grande, Stanley Christian had 21 points and Will Hill had 20. Greg Wallace grabbed 14 rebounds.
Both teams got off to a slow start, with Rio Grande holding a 3-0 lead after four minutes of play. The RedStorm held a narrow lead for the majority of the first half, using strong defense to prevent the Celtics from getting many good looks at the basket.
However, Carlow came back and tied it up at 24, with 6:28 remaining in the first half. The Celtics took their first lead, 25-24, with 5:42 left before the break. They led, 36-32, at halftime, and would control the rest of the contest.
At the 16:27 mark in the second half, Scharbo was forced out of the game for treatment of his lingering head injury from Tuesday with the Celtics holding a 40-39 lead. However, the rest of the Celtics stepped up and extended their lead to 52-48 during the six minutes he missed.
From there, Carlow inched out to a 7-point lead, only to see Rio Grande cut it’s deficit to 61-60 with 3:27 to play.
But Sunder swished a contested pull-up jumper on the Celtics’ next possession. After one more basket by Bryan, Carlow had a 65-61 lead with 2:10 remaining and the RedStorm was forced to foul as the clock wound down.
Acrie, Bryan, Sunder, and Tarver combined to convert 9-of-14 free-throws to seal the win.
The Celtics finished the game shooting 47.2 percent (25-of-53) from the field, 25 percent (3-of-12) from 3, and 63.9 percent (23-of-36) from the foul line.
They held Rio Grande well below its scoring average of 81.4 points per game. The RedStorm shot 39.7 percent (25-of-63) shooting from the field, 21.1 percent (4-of-19) from 3, and 64 percent (16-of-25) from the free-throw line.
Rio Grande, with a significant size advantage at every position, out-rebounded Carlow, 40-30. But the Celtics tossed 12 assists and made 11 turnovers, while the RedStorm had six assists compared to 13 turnovers.