Shawnee State (7-12), playing NAIA Division II tenth-ranked Walsh, had a strong showing at the start and through most of the second half. But the finish was a problem as the Cavaliers ended the game with a 23-7 run, notching a 77-56 victory Saturday afternoon.
"For 35 or 36 minutes, we really competed and hung right with them,” SSU head coach Jeff Hamilton said. “There were just a couple stretches where we'd string together a few stops, and just couldn't seem to make a basket."
While the game's final minutes were the back breaker, Hamilton looked at the beginning of the second half as a key to the game.
"The first four minutes of the second half were crucial," Hamilton said. "We came out and got stops and rebounds. But you look up at the scoreboard at the 16 minute mark and we've only put one point on the board."
Senior Justin Patrick led the team with 18 points and seven rebounds.
"This was my last time playing against Walsh," Patrick said. "I wanted to lead and made sure I did by playing hard, talking, and doing everything I can. When the team's not playing well, I take responsibility. When we're down, I try to step up, put the team on my back, and do what I can do."
Led by Patrick, the Bears competed with Walsh (14-3) in the first half, only trailing by eight at the break.
"In the first half they were a lot more aggressive than we were," Walsh head coach Jeff Young said. "They were scoring inside and we really didn't have an answer for Patrick. He was kind of taking it to us. In the second half, we made a few adjustments, and I think we defended better."
Though they shot just 8-for-25 in the second half, a number of players helped to keep SSU in the game until the final minutes.
"(Aaron) Pennington played hard," Hamilton said. "(Ian) Nixson and (Timothy) Russell are continuing to get better. But I give Walsh an awful lot of credit."
Pennington, Nixson and Russell each scored seven points in the contest. Jason Overbeck added eight, scoring five to cut into the Walsh lead in the second half before the shots quit falling.
"I thought we had some good looks," Hamilton said. "They just didn't drop. From not being able to get that score to even in the first five minutes, it was always an uphill struggle. When we did make a run at them and had it at five there, (Joe) Shardo jumped up and hit some big shots."
Shardo jump-started Walsh's assult with just over seven minutes to play. SSU had cut the lead to five points, but the senior answered with two 3s in less than a minute to give the Cavaliers an 11-point edge. SSU would not get the game back within 10.
Shardo scored 22 points, hitting four 3s. His younger brother Jeremy, scored 18 with seven rebounds and eight assists.
"The two Shardo boys really played well," Hamilton said. "In the first half, Jeremy had the ball right in the paint and played well. In the second half, big brother Joe shoots it in. So it makes it tough. He hit some big shots."
Those big shots, and some late free throws were really the difference in the game according to Walsh's coach.
"We felt like we kind of struggled all day long," Young said. "They weren't going to go away. They played hard and every time we went up eight or 10 points, they cut it to four or five. So we couldn't get any separation until those three balls that Joe hit at the end."
Though they came up short in the upset bid, the Bears take some positives from the game.
"We're getting better and better each game," Patrick said. "If we play the rest of our games like we played today, we'll win 80 percent of our games the rest of the year."
SSU will be back on the road Tuesday, for a 7:30 game at Ohio Dominican. The Bears return to Portsmouth for a 4:30 homecoming date with Northwestern Ohio next Saturday.