It will truly be home sweet home for Shawnee State today against Cedarville. The Bears haven't roamed at the James A. Rhodes Athletic Center in almost a month, including a winless, yet productive trip to Kent State for a holiday tournament.
After two road games back in the AMC, the Bears return home to face their arch rivals, something that put a smile on coach Jeff Hamilton's face.
“We're back at the friendly confines and there should be a number of students and a great crowd,” Hamilton said. “It's been a fantastic rivalry the last few years. We've split with them every year I've been here and you always want to do your best against a quality opponent like (Cedarville).”
Along with bragging rights, the game is also pertinent as far as the AMC South standing are concerned. Both teams are 4-2 in the conference, tied for third. Which ever team is victorious today would be in a solid position to make the conference tournament.
Hamilton isn't worried about the future - but the present isn't too bright for either team.
Currently both the Bears and Yellow Jackets are struggling. SSU has dropped four of its last five games, the last defeated a 92-77 decision to Mount Vernon Nazarene on Saturday. No. 14 Cedarville comes in having lost five of six.
But despite the losses, SSU has shown improvement since Kent State. The Bears rebounded from losses to Division I teams Kent State and Elon with a win at Malone. In that contest, the Bears overcame 34 of 39 shooting by Malone at the free-throw line.
“We've got to lay the bricks that pave the way to our success,” Hamilton said. “We have to make better strides on the court, especially against the conference.”
Hamilton said playing against NCAA squads allowed SSU to grasp some concepts better, which should help them in the AMC.
“We're starting to understand the intensity required to be successful,” Hamilton said. Against Cedarville, we have to put forth the maximum effort to get positive results.
“Against the Division I teams, we had to adjust to their athleticism. Against Cedarville, we will have to do that as well.”
Although Mugabe Thomas is gone, the cupboard is not bare for the Yellow Jackets. Daniel Rose and Chris Beals will be two forces for Cedarville in the post. Rose is the team's second-leading scorer at 12.2 points per game and Beals chips in 10.4. The Yellow Jackets boast five players averaging double figures, led by Ryan Short's 14.9 points.
The Bears will counter with Josh Reed's 21.1 points a game and Aaron Davis' 11.6 average. The duo have had a few strong outings in a row, both pouring in 24 and 19 points respectively against Mount Vernon.
Although the guards will get their shots, with Cedarville's aggressive post players playing well, Hamilton hopes today some of his players down in the blocks will come out of their recent funk. The team's forwards have hit a bit of a lull lately, through the tough schedule, and the Bears will need their presence felt to combat Cedarville. Justin Brinkman and Kevin McDonald only contributed nine points against Malone and then teamed up for four against the Cougars.
“They haven't been as productive (recently),” Hamilton said. “I hope they get back to being aggressive and handling a double team. They also have to have confidence that when they kick it out to our guards they will get it back to them.”
The Yellow Jackets are very aggressive on defense, having already logged 58 blocks as a team. Hamilton wants that aggressiveness used against Cedarville, so the team will attempt to utilize ball fakes to get the Yellow Jackets off balance and create open shots.
‘We've got to get open shots and knock them down,” Hamilton said. “We've got to get better ball movement and eliminate careless mistakes on offense. They need to get each other in position to be successful.”
Tip-off is at 8 p.m. after the women's game.
JEFF TAEPKE can be reached at (740) 353-3101 ext. 242.