The weather has been warm the past few days in Portsmouth, and that carried over onto the court in the first game of a doubleheader as No. 4 Shawnee State squared off against No. 12 Lindsey Wilson (Ky.) on the women’s side of things.
Shawnee State’s student section came in their favorite swim gear, equipped with pool noodles and all. The Bears basketball team played their part as well, with hot shooting to spark Shawnee State to a 79-71 victory.
“I feel like Lindsey Wilson is a team that could win the conference, and to knock them off is huge for us,” Bears head coach Jeff Nickel said. “We’ve had some really good games with them over the last two years, and this is the fourth time we’ve played them in the last two years.”
It was an interesting challenge for Shawnee State as they tried to slow down reigning Mid South Conference Player of the Year Kayla Styles.
“Styles is the best player in the country in my opinion, she got 33 on us but she got 15 of those at the line,” Nickel said. “I felt like we made her take some tough shots, and she got some easy ones there towards the end but great players are going to do that.”
The Bears would lead by as many as 25 points with 5:12 to play in the third quarter, but had to scramble to hold off a late surge from the Blue Raiders.
Styles was a big part in those comeback efforts, and created a matchup problem for the smaller Shawnee State squad.
“We had trouble guarding Styles, but we just stuck together and started rebounding,” Bears junior Ashton Lovely said. “Her athleticism and her size with us playing five guards, it was hard to guard her.”
Early on, it was the play of Lindsey Wilson’s Teanna Curry that kept the Blue Raiders coming. Curry scored six quick points for Lindsey Wilson, but checked out with her second foul at the 3:47 mark of the first quarter with her team trailing 14-10.
Curry would finish with just six points, all coming in the opening period.
After Curry checked out, Shawnee State closed the first on an 11-6 run. Lovely would score six of those points, and finished with 24 points total. The guard also recorded three rebounds, four assists, two blocks, and two steals.
“I thought we got a great performance out of Ashton Lovely,” Nickel said. “Her three ball didn’t go in, she was 1 for 11, but she did a lot of really good other things.”
“She got to the line, was able to get some passes out to other people, and did a really good job there.”
Lovely said she just let the game come to her, and pressed on through the shooting woes.
“I just tried to make the right plays,” Lovely said. “My shot didn’t fall, but I didn’t let that stop me like I would probably in previous games. I just realized what I had to do to get the win.”
Through one quarter, the Bears led 25-16.
In the second quarter, Shawnee State created some separation heading into halftime.
An and-one from Styles cut the deficit for the Blue Raiders to seven with 5:35 to play.
After that point, though, the Bears broke ahead on a 15-5 run to lead 47-30 at the half.
Shawnee State got a score from four different players on that stretch, really spacing the floor and distributing the ball well.
The vision from the Bears was most notable on a full court pass from Bailey Cummins to Madison Ridout for an easy layup.
Both Cummins and Ridout made their presence felt throughout the night, scoring 14 points each.
With players like Lovely and Ridout who have had past success, there are a lot of bright spots on the roster. However, both those players have no issue getting others involved.
“Madison Ridout is an All-American, Ashton Lovely is an All-American,” Nickel said. “Those kids are just really good players, they bring it every possession … that’s why we’re good, that’s why we’re ranked fourth in the country, because we’ve got kids who will put others first and are really selfless.”
Hannah Miller was also a mainstay in the second quarter stretch for Shawnee State, scoring nine of the 15 points during that span for the Bears.
Miller ended the game with 16 points in what has continued to be an impressive season for her.
“Hannah Miller is a kid that comes in as a walk on and ends up having a great year,” Nickel said. “She’s averaging about 13 or 14 points per game.”
The defense for Shawnee State was outstanding in the first half. The Bears held Lindsey Wilson to 9-for-37 shooting (24 percent) and were tough to score on in the half court.
“I felt like we were holding our lines good,” Nickel said. “We did a good job getting in the gap, and didn’t really give them a lot of driving lanes.”
“In the second half, we probably got away from that a little more. Hugging our man a little bit too much, and they started hitting some shots. We’ve just got to trust the process, get in the gap, sit down and play good defense.”
Shawnee State would pull ahead in a big way early, but the Blue Raiders weren’t going away any time soon.
In the third quarter, the Bears began to pull away even more. A shot from Lovely with 5:12 to play made the score 61-36 in favor of Shawnee State, the largest lead of the game.
To the credit of Lindsey Wilson, though, the Blue Raiders kept the fight.
“We got up by 25 there in the third, and they made some adjustments with the zone,” Nickel said. “I felt like we struggled shooting the ball a little bit there, missed some wide-open threes and a couple gimme layups. I thought that was able to get them some momentum.”
Those missed shots didn’t have much of an impact through three, as Shawnee State held a 66-51 advantage.
The fourth quarter, though, was a bit different.
Lindsey Wilson made a late push, pulling as close as six points with 2:45 to play after a Styles basket made the score 73-67.
In a game that would go back and forth in the final quarter, the Bears had just enough left to close the game out.
Shawnee State would lock in late and fend off the Blue Raiders run down the wire, winning 79-71.
“I feel like we’re still growing,” Nickel said. “I like where our older girls are, they’re starting to lead a little bit more and starting to be a little more vocal. They understand I think what we’re wanting to do and expect on a day-to-day basis.”
The older players aren’t the only positive, as Coach Nickel also liked what he saw from his freshman.
“I was really proud of Leah Wingeier and her performance tonight,” Nickel said. “We’re getting closer, and those girls are getting closer every single day. I feel like by the time we get to tournament time, they’re going to be where they need to be.”
With the win, Shawnee State improved to 15-3 on the year and 2-0 in the MSC. It was a nice way to start off the conference schedule, especially against a tough team in Lindsey Wilson.
“This is a pretty big deal, we’ve been prepping for this all week,” Lovely said. “It’s a good start to conference play, especially with beating Pikeville and now them. We’re going to get ready for Cumberland this weekend.”
The Bears will host Cumberland (12-5, 1-1) on Saturday at 1 pm.
There probably won’t be many wearing shorts and ready to go swimming in the stands, though.