Staying composed in the moment is a very important component to finishing off a game with a victory – regardless of sport.
On Tuesday evening, the Shawnee State men’s basketball program battled through some intense moments in its second affair against the Rio Grande men’s basketball program en route to claiming a 96-82 victory over the RedStorm on the campus of Frank and Janis Waller Gymnasium and sweeping the regular season series against Rio Grande for the first time since the 2010-11 season.
For DeLano Thomas, the contest provided quite a few ups and downs on both ends of the spectrum, as is to be expected in a rivalry affair with the tradition that the SSU-Rio rivalry has in its arsenal.
“We had our moments where we controlled the game on both ends of the floor, both offensively and defensively,” Thomas said. “We just got in trouble with taking care of the basketball and keeping our composure.”
From the outset, both units proved to be plenty feisty as both teams traded the point 14 times over the course of the first 10 and a half minutes on Tuesday evening.
However, Shawnee State, behind the play of heady seniors J. Murrell and Fred Moore, along with the continued force that EJ Onu provided down on the low block, found a way to establish control.
Murrell, who defended a Rio Grande pass under Shawnee State’s own basket, knocked the pass away to himself and scored, and was followed by Onu’s tough finish in traffic. A technical foul from Rio Grande’s Jaxon Burgess following a personal foul then ultimately led to three free throws from Moore, and Murrell’s tough and-one putback through contact, along with three additional free throws from Selby Hind-Wills, ultimately allowed Shawnee State to take a seven-point lead, 30-23, with just over seven minutes to play in the opening 20 ticks.
When Rio Grande went on a 7-0 run of its own — in large part due to Trey Kelley’s five points in the opening half and Will Hill, who went off for 15 points in the first half and canned three treys in the process — to tie the score at 30 apiece, Shawnee State’s Daniel Ester followed by canning two low-post buckets off of cuts inside. The freshman’s four points, along with a trey from Bryan Rolfe with 3.5 seconds to play in the first half of action, ultimately allowed the Bears to take its largest lead of the half, 42-34, heading into the halftime break.
Still, Thomas, as he has been in the past, was impressed with Rio Grande’s play and work ethic.
“Rio played their butts off,” Thomas said. “We knew that they were going to come out, play hard, and really give it their all. Will Hill had a very good game, and the remaining guys around him continued to fight.”
Shawnee State, however, didn’t let Hill’s performance deter them from building a sizeable advantage. Within the first 10 seconds of the second half’s commencement, Murrell stole a pass and turned the steal into a transition layup, which ultimately led to a sizeable 15-5 advantage that increased Shawnee State’s advantage to 57-39.
Carter, who scored five of his game-high 18 points during the run, and Matt Rhodes, who knocked down the third of his team-high five triples in the spurt, were huge, as was Onu, who added a wide-open three from straightaway that extended the Bears’ lead to 60-44 with less than 14 minutes to go in the contest. Rhodes ultimately obtained 17 points on his own against his former team, while Onu, who added 14 points of his own, earned Dick Hyland Player of the Game honors for SSU.
“It’s good for Matt to have that moment against the very team that he formally played with,” Thomas said.
When Rio Grande cut the lead down to within striking distance after a three by Hill and a layup by the senior point guard ultimately dropped the deficit to a 60-49 margin, a technical foul on Stanley Christian — assessed after a personal foul was called on a Carter drive — ultimately led to four free throws from the latter. That play proved to be the pendulum swing in what proved to be a 10-2 run for Shawnee State, which was finished off by a sick, behind-the-back no-look pass by Justin Johnson to Onu in the low post as the Bears took a 70-51 advantage.
Still, the iffy ballhandling control by Shawnee State proved to be costly — especially considering that the Bears’ 22 turnovers to 18 assists kept SSU from establishing a lead that would put the game completely out of reach.
“We had 18 assists today, but you can’t really be excited about that when you have 22 turnovers,” Thomas said. “We put ourselves in a good position to make a good play, then gave it back, which hurt us as far as building the lead was concerned.”
After Rio Grande whittled the lead down slightly to a 80-64 gap, those turnovers officially came back to haunt the RedStorm as Rio Grande went on a furious 11-2 run that cut the lead down to an 82-75 margin with 1:53 to play in the fourth quarter behind, once again, Hill, who proved to be a thorn in the Bears’ side with 30 points en route to Dick Hyland Player of the Game honors for the RedStorm.
“It’s a situation where we have to do a better job, when we get that 20-point lead, on continuing to build the advantage,” Thomas said. “Every time we bounced it back up to 18, 19, 20 points, we tried to hit a home run with it with a big play, a three, or something that we don’t really need. We needed to keep it simple.”
The steady hands of Tamal Watkins, however, proved to be what the Bears needed to finally finish the affair off as the sophomore guard scored eight of Shawnee State’s final 10 points — including two coming off of a monstrous poster dunk from Carter that earned the senior his second technical of the affair. Christian was also given a technical, which means that both players will be suspended a game by rule of doing so.
“Jayllen’s performance, when you have 18 points, kind of gets thrown out the door when you have two technical fouls,” Thomas said. “People are going to say that it was a great dunk and this and that, but unfortunately, he put his team in a bad situation when he did that.”
With the victory, Shawnee State not only swept the season series against Rio Grande for the first time since the 2010-2011 campaign, but also moved back over .500 with its record now standing at 12-11 after the win. The Bears, however, will have to buckle down with No. 6 Pikeville coming to Portsmouth on Thursday evening.
“Pikeville is coming off of big wins,” Thomas said. “They lost two early after we played when we started conference play, and they took off again after that. It’s a great opportunity for us, with them coming into our place, to really buckle down and play.”