Strong defensive performances are always important if a team wants to emerge victorious on any given day.
On Saturday afternoon, the Shawnee State Bears’ women’s basketball program continued to show off the qualities that has made it a top-10 defense over the course of the 2017-18 season as Shawnee State — who only allowed 55 points per contest coming into a Mid-South Conference affair against the Cumberlands (Ky.) Patriots, didn’t allow the program — a solid 13-6 coming into Saturday’s affair — to obtain more than 15 points in any given quarter as the Bears claimed a 77-53 victory en route to obtaining its 20th win of the year and its 15th win in a row.
And for head coach Jeff Nickel, it was the defensive play that allowed Shawnee State to prevail in a contest that was slowed by 51 personal fouls and a technical foul on Saturday.
“It was a choppy game,” Nickel said. “There were a lot of fouls called. I thought that we did a good job of getting out on the break early, and got things going there. I felt like we did a good job defending Cheyenne Madden, who is a three-time defending Mid-South Conference Player of the Week, played pretty sound defense, and did a good job.”
From the outset, Nickel’s club proved to be nothing less than stout defensively as Madden struggled to find space to operate in the low post. The 6-0 junior connected on just one of her 10 field goal attempts from the floor for the contest as as Shawnee State kept the London, Ky. native from obtaining clean low-post touches. Madden ultimately finished with just seven points for the affair.
“We just wanted to control where she caught it,” Nickel said. “We just wanted to have our guys in the gaps, help, and make things difficult. We made all of her looks tough. She’s a good player.”
As Shawnee State controlled the play of Madden inside, the Bears wasted no time establishing control of the affair. The Bears, who scored the first six points of the contest, used strong balance — and the two-way play of Ashton Lovely and Madison Ridout — to establish control.
The pair, along with freshman Sienna King, combined for 15 of Shawnee State’s 19 points in the opening quarter — with Ridout scoring seven on her own — to allow the Bears to take a 10-point first quarter lead (19-9) before SSU’s deficit was sliced in half to 19-14 by the end of the opening quarter of action.
Ridout, who ultimately finished with 13 points, seven rebounds, and a steal on 4-of-8 shooting, proved to be a pest all game long, either from the three-spot or as a small-ball four.
“Madison’s a great rebounder, a good team player, and she performs in all of the intangibles that you want a player to perform in,” Nickel said. “That’s why she’s our senior leader and our captain.”
When Cumberlands (Ky.) cut the lead to five, Shawnee State countered by running its offense through Lydia Poe, who used her 6-2 frame effectively en route to creating a matchup nightmare. Poe ultimately scored six of her 10 points in the second quarter, but it was her unselfish passing out of the low and high post areas — which led to two Hannah Miller baskets — that ultimately allowed the Bears to build its advantage. Shania Massie added an and-one finish inside following a strong rebound from the Greenfield, Ohio native to put Shawnee State up 35-25 at the halftime break.
In the third quarter of action, the low post rotation of King, Poe, Leah Wingeier, and Waverly’s own Lakin Smith continued to put together strong performances on the defensive end of the floor. Wingeier’s four tallies in the third quarter of action, along with productive minutes from the remaining trio, were vital in holding Madden and fellow low-post player Brandi Williams to just 11 points on the evening.
“Lydia was really good today for us,” Nickel said. “She got inside early and scored, and did a good job defensively on Madden. I thought Leah came in and played really well, altered some shots with her 6-5 frame. CeCe started the game for us and did an excellent job of running our sets, and Lakin played really hard when she was out there.”
Still, behind an 8-0 third-quarter run, Cumberlands continued to remain within striking distance as the Patriots, entering the final minute of the quarter, trailed SSU by a 53-38 count.
That, however, quickly changed in a flash.
Behind a three from dead-on by Bailey Cummins, a second and-one from Massie, and a corner three from Miller, Shawnee State quickly extended its lead back out to a comfortable margin as the Bears padded its margin to a 62-40 cushion with 8:29 to play. From there, Miller finished the game off by scoring nine of her 18 points in the final quarter by simply taking what the Cumberlands defense gave the Coal Grove native.
“Hannah did a good job of getting us in an offense,” Nickel said. “She played the one, the two, and the three all in the same game, and I thought that she did a really good job of getting people involved and attacking the basket. I was really proud of the way that she played.”
With the victory, Shawnee State, whose overall record now stands at 20-3 overall and 7-0 in MSC action, officially sewed up its 26th 20-win campaign in the 28-year history of the program under the university umbrella.
But as has been the case throughout the duration of the program, Nickel knows that 20-win seasons aren’t the end-all — and that point, which is what has fueled the program in the past, will only continue to fuel it in the future as the Bears begin the second half of its conference slate on Thursday evening in a home bout against Pikeville (Ky.).
“We’ve got a good team, but the important thing in that is the fact that our kids know our system really well,” Nickel said. “It’s been a good transition. I’m just really happy with the way that we’ve played throughout the season. We still have seven MSC games left and will be going back around the league for the second time since we’re halfway through the schedule, so it’s going to take a lot of effort on our part. We’re going to have to be really focused, concentrate on our scouting reports, prepare where we’re supposed to prepare, and stay injury-free.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @KColleyPDT