The Shawnee State men’s basketball program earned its first Mid-South Conference win on Saturday afternoon, rallying to defeat Cumberland (Tenn.) 85-82 at Waller Gymnasium.
As they did in their previous two conference games, the Bears got off to a slow start. Cumberland got some early baskets and eventually pushed their lead to nine, 23-14 with 12:20 to go. A bevy of early turnovers helped Cumberland get easy baskets in transition, with Andrew Rogan’s early play helping Cumberland to the lead.
Shawnee State, however, would begin to chip away at the advantage. With the score at 33-26 in favor of Cumberland, Tamal Watkins nailed a trey to cut the lead to four. Watkins then missed a three on the next possession, but Frederick Moore (SR/Cincinnati, Ohio) would be there to clean up the missed shot on a putback to draw Shawnee State within two. Diondrey Holt, Jr. nailed a shot on the other end, but Gavin Brown (FR/Carroll, Ohio) would come back by nailing a three to cut the Cumberland lead to 35-34, and when Rhyan Townes connected on a layup in the middle of the lane, Shawnee State came back by tying the game up on the next possession with a three from Jayllen Carter. Two possessions later, Carter again hit from deep to give Shawnee State a 40-37 lead. SSU pushed the lead out to four by halftime and led 46-42 going into the break.
The game remained close for the rest of the evening, as the two teams slugged it out in the final 20 minutes. Andrew Rogan nailed a layup in transition and a three on Cumberland’s next possession to give the Phoenix a 57-54 lead with 15:24 to go, but Watkins answered immediately to tie the game back up. Cumberland again took the lead behind the efforts of Charles Sweatt-Washington, but SSU chipped away at the deficit and ultimately took the lead back through Matt Rhodes’ bucket, which allowed the Bears to take a 64-63 advantage with 10:40 to go.
Cumberland, however, battled its way back into the lead, with Rhyan Townes scoring four straight to put the Phoenix up 67-64.
But as they had all night, the Bears battled back. Watkins split a pair of bonus free throws to cut the lead to two, then EJ Onu (FR/Cleveland, Ohio) took a pass from Justin Johnson (SO/Cincinnati, Ohio) to tie the game up. Jayllen Carter then hit a layup through a Townes foul and hit the free throw to give Shawnee State a 70-67 lead. Carter and Bryan Rolfe (SO/Lucasville, Ohio) drove into the lane for layups on the next two SSU possessions to give the Bears a 74-67 lead and cap an 11-0 run for the Bears.
However, Cumberland wasn’t done.
With the score at 78-71 in favor of SSU, the Phoenix went on a blistering 7-0 spurt to tie the score. Blake Johnson would start the run with a basket, then Ty Sean Powell connected on a shot inside the paint to cut the lead to three. Rogan then hit another three to knot the score at 78 aside. Justin Johnson followed by getting a layup to drop, but Powell responded immediately to tie the game up. Bryan Rolfe then split a pair of double bonus free throws to give SSU a one point lead, but Powell again scored to give Cumberland an 82-81 lead. However, that would be Cumberland’s last points of the evening, as Matt Rhodes nailed his second game-winner in the week for Shawnee State, hitting a runner from the right side to put the Bears up 83-82. SSU would then get a crucial stop, and Bryan Rolfe hit a pair of free throws to put the Bears up three. Holt, Jr. would miss from deep to end the game as the Bears walked away with the three-point victory.
Carter had 17 points and 10 rebounds to lead Shawnee State, while Onu put together a career night, scoring 12 points and putting together an 11-block effort. Onu’s blocks would break the Shawnee State single game record held by head coach DeLano Thomas, who had nine in a game. SSU also got 15 points each from Tamal Watkins and Matt Rhodes.
Andrew Rogan led all scorers with 24 points for Cumberland. Ty Sean Powell added 15, Charles Sweatt-Washington had 13 and Rhyan Townes had 11.
The win improves Shawnee State to 10-8 on the season and 1-2 in the Mid-South Conference. Cumberland fell to 8-9 on the year and 1-2 in the league. The win moves Shawnee State out of the conference cellar as Campbellsville fell in its third straight game to drop into last place in the conference standings.
The Shawnee State men’s basketball program returns to action on Thursday, Jan. 18 when they hit the road to face MSC foe and the No. 1 team in the NAIA Division I Poll, Georgetown. Tip-off is set for 8 p.m.