Over the course of his time at Shawnee State University, DeLano Thomas has been highly and widely respected for the amount of professionalism and hard work that he has brought to the table as a player and as a coach rising through the ranks.
And as his first regular season enters its home stretch, it’s clear that the Bears are making serious strides as a result of Thomas’ work as the men’s basketball program’s head coach.
With Shawnee State having already accumulated one major victory over the week with its 86-84 victory over Campbellsville University — who was receiving votes in the Division I NAIA Top 25 Poll — the Bears quickly made it two-for-two for the week as Shawnee State, behind a game-tying three-pointer from Fred Moore to send a Mid-South Conference contest against Georgetown to overtime, a go-ahead three-pointer from Matt Rhodes, and four double-figure scorers, were able to claim a thrilling 92-90 victory over the Tigers on Senior Day as the Bears evened their overall record to 14-14 overall while improving to 4-8 from a Mid-South Conference standpoint on Saturday evening at Frank and Janis Waller Gymnasium.
For DeLano Thomas, the contest featured plenty of exciting moments — especially for the three senior players (Jayllen Carter, Fred Moore, and Matt Rhodes) who helped to deliver the positive results that the program is seeing in spades as of late.
“It was a great moment, especially for the seniors,” Thomas said. “To end their last game in the Cave with a great win over Georgetown was great for them.”
And each of the three seniors each had their defining moments in their final home affair.
After getting his fourth foul early in the second half, Thomas reinserted Carter with nine minutes to play in the contest, trusting in the senior to remain foul free for the rest of the game. The senior delivered in a major way with 22 points on 8-of-13 shooting, notched seven assists to just three turnovers for a 2.33-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, accumulated four steals and three rebounds, and last, but not least, went a perfect 5-of-5 from the charity stripe to cap off arguably the best game of his career as a Bear.
In the process, Carter made two of his biggest plays while distributing the basketball.
With Shawnee State down by an 80-77 margin and just 16.6 seconds left on the clock, Moore handed the basketball off to Carter, who already gave it back to Moore as the senior forward escaped the grasp of Quan Pondexter and nailed a three from the right side with eight-tenths of a second left to send the game to overtime.
In the overtime period, Carter, again, set up a huge look through his unselfish play.
With the Bears down by a 90-88 margin after Matt Rhodes nailed a huge three from the left corner to cut into the lead on SSU’s last offensive possession, Carter — operating from the left side this time — had Rhodes set a screen for him on the left wing. When both Georgetown defenders went with Carter as he moved off to the right, the senior guard found Rhodes wide-open on the left wing as the 6-4 senior gave SSU the lead. Carter then stole the basketball as Georgetown’s Troy Steward — who had 34 points and six three-pointers — lost the ball in mid-air while going up for a three-pointer.
“All three of those guys (Carter, Moore, Rhodes) had a great moment and a great game,” Thomas said. “They each made key plays down the stretch. The sacrifice of some of my younger guys who didn’t get the opportunity to play was great as well. We knew that we wanted to ride the seniors for this game, and for those guys to cheer them on and stay within the game took a lot of sacrifice and unselfishness to really win a game like that.”
What made the accomplishments even better — if that was possible — was that all three players never tapped out of their big moments. Carter, Moore (who finished with 24 points and 12 rebounds on 11-of-19 shooting), and Rhodes (21 points, six rebounds on 5-of-6 three-point shooting) each played 41 or more minutes in the 45 minute affair.
“There were a lot of huge plays there,” Thomas said. “A lot of times, 40 minutes aren’t what those guys need to be on their top-tier levels from a performance standpoint, but there were some key plays down the stretch there. Jayllen, also, came back in with nine minutes left in the game with four fouls, and he didn’t foul out, which was huge. He proceeded to make very selfless decisions on making himself the decoy, passing the ball to Fred to make a big shot to send it to overtime, and passing the ball to Matt Rhodes to give us the win, which was huge. I’m just excited for those guys.”
However, the complimentary pieces certainly made themselves known. Sophomore forward Justin Johnson finished with 10 rebounds, eight points, two blocks, and two steals, while stellar freshman EJ Onu had five blocks. Tamal Watkins’ 12 points and Bryan Rolfe’s two-to-one assist-to-turnover ratio was also huge in the contest.
“It was good to see guys like Justin Johnson get 10 rebounds, which was huge,” Thomas said. “Fred grabbing six offensive rebounds was also huge. Then, EJ (Onu) didn’t have his normal offensive production, but had five huge blocks, which was great for him, and Tamal and Bryan did a great job getting the seniors involved and keeping our game ran, which was great to see. We had a nice balance, even though it wasn’t so much from a scoring standpoint. The overall performance of guys doing the little things such as blocking shots, boxing out, and rebounding, is the sacrifice that you need to win games like that.”
With the victory, Shawnee State, who has won four out of its last seven contests, will look to continue the strong swing in road bouts against No. 24 Cumberlands (Ky) and No. 21 Life (Ga.) on Thursday and Saturday. And just like Saturday evening’s contest against Georgetown, it will require an A-plus effort to emerge victorious.
“For us, we’re still seeking our first conference win on the road, so that’s going to be a point of emphasis this whole week,” Thomas said. “It’s going to be about focusing in on how important it is to count on yourself and each other to do the jobs required. We’re going to take it possession-by-possession with each team, try to take our opponents out of what they like to do, and continue to play our style and be unselfish on the offensive end and the defensive end.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @KColleyPDT