Their conference rival was coming to town, it was the start of conference play and perhaps, most importantly, there was a five-game losing streak to consider. With so much on the line, the Bears and coach Jeff Hamilton left no doubt about the outcome in a 93-75 win over the University of Rio Grande at home.
With 3:45 to play in the game, Shawnee State led Rio Grande 81-59 when the Redmen finally got going.
Rio managed a 10-2 run to bring the score to 83-69. With not much time left, it was unlikely that Rio Grande would be able to make a comeback, but just in case, the Bears Kevin McDonald threw down a dunk with 1:32 to play, sealing the win for Shawnee State.
McDonald scored eight points with four rebounds and it was the combination of him, Bryan Robinson, Justin Brinkman and the rest of the SSU front court that made the difference. The Bears' post players scored 33 points and limited Rio's top scorer, 6-foot-8 Brandon Ivery, to just five points before fouling out on a technical foul.
“Robinson, in the first half, was real active against him and we didn't let him get easy shots around the basket,” Hamilton said. “I think his one basket was a dunk. We made him shoot shots over top of us and we did a good job of working early on him so he had to catch the ball out on the floor and not get good position. You have to give our post guys a lot of credit for that.”
The offense, though, belonged mostly to the guards. Josh Reed finished with 26 points and two assists, and Aaron Davis scored 16 points with seven rebounds. At halftime, Reed had 17 and Davis had 13 points, essentially equaling their per game scoring average in just one half of play. Another guard, Wes Jordan, scored 10 points in the win.
“They took good shots,” Hamilton said. “In the first half I was as pleased as I've been with how we executed our offense and let the offense come to us.”
Being a rivalry, the Rio Grande game is often one of the best attended games at the James A. Rhodes Athletic Center, but the home crowd was somewhat limited because SSU students are still on winter break. Still, a group of 8 to 10 die hard SSU students and alumni managed to outcheer the large Rio Grande contingent, something Hamilton noted in his post-game interview with WNXT Radio.
“It would have been nice to have the game next week when the students are back,” Hamilton said. “But luckily the handful that were back were the loudest ones.”
The win starts the Bears' AMC season off on the right foot. Continuing the momentum gained from the win will be important as the Bears next game is against Walsh, ranked No. 4 in the NAIA Division II ratings.
“I think (getting the win) was critical,” Hamilton said. “Any time a conference game is at home, there is a little bit of pressure there. Obviously Rio is a good team and they came in ready to play. It was a hard fought victory for us today.”
NOTES: SSU's Josh Reed won the Dick Hyland Award, a plaque given to the top player for each team in the SSU-Rio game held in Portsmouth each year. Rio junior Brett Beucler's 22 points leave him 105 short of 1,000 for his career. The Bears and Redmen each had two players from SOC high schools on their rosters for this game and the quartet combined for just two points - former South Webster Jeep Jordan Lower was the lone scorer.
JOHN STEGEMAN can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.