Winning on the road in conference action is always tough to do — especially when it’s in arguably the tough conference in all of NAIA basketball.
However, the Shawnee State Bears’ women’s basketball program has proceeded to do just that time and time again — to the tune of five different occasions during the 2017-18 campaign without a loss.
On Thursday evening, Shawnee State scored yet another road victory as 14 points, five rebounds, and two steals from Madison Ridout, along with 12 points from Shania Massie and 11 points apiece from Bailey Cummins and Ashton Lovely, allowed the No. 1-ranked Bears to take home their 21st consecutive victory while clinching the Mid-South Conference regular season crown outright as SSU defeated Cumberlands (Ky.), 62-49, in an MSC contest that was played in Williamsburg, Ky. on Thursday evening.
For Nickel, it was simply another day of business as everyone in the program has come to know it.
“We had really balanced scoring tonight, and we played very well defensively,” Nickel said. “It’s pretty typical of how we’ve played through most of this season.”
During the first quarter of play, that balance showed up in spades as Lovely — a thrilling off-guard who is more than worth the price of admission to see — scored seven of Shawnee State’s first nine points to start the opening quarter. Cummins’ five tallies and Ridout’s four added onto the Bears’ strong offensive showing in the first quarter as the All-American caliber trio allowed Shawnee State to take an 18-15 first-quarter advantage.
In the second quarter of action, SSU’s bench play again put life into the Bears’ attack. Shania Massie and Lydia Poe, who scored the first six points of the second quarter between them behind Massie’s three-pointer and Poe’s and-one, were big on both ends throughout as Massie accumulated five points in the second and four points in the fourth quarter en route to outscoring the entire Cumberlands bench by herself (12 to eight) while Poe collected seven points and three rebounds in just 18 minutes of play.
However, as strong as their offensive production was, it was their defensive energy that proved to be the game-changer. Massie’s three steals, along with Poe’s ability to hold standout forward Cheyenne Madden to just three points, four rebounds, and four turnovers on 1-of-6 shooting in 20 minutes, was vital as the Bears increased their advantage to a seven-point margin at the halftime break.
“Shania played very well for us tonight and had a really solid game on both ends of the floor,” Nickel said. “I was really proud of her effort. Lydia did a really good job on Cheyenne Madden. She was able to limit her production on both ends of the floor. Lydia was good on both ends and was very efficient in her time on the floor.”
In the second half of action, Ridout took over the scoring reigns for the Bears as the senior scored seven consecutive SSU points to push the lead out to a double-digit tally. Her seven third-quarter tallies ultimately resulted in a 14-point, five-rebound, two-steal, one-block outing for the contest.
“Madison was really good,” Nickel said. “She was able to score on the block a little bit, and was able to get some things inside the free throw line and score off of those opportunities. I thought that she was really solid on both ends.”
But as solid as Shawnee State proved to be on the offensive end, it was the defensive side of the court where the Bears really continued to shine. After allowing Cumberlands (Ky.) to shoot 47 percent in the opening half of action, the Bears clamped down on the Patriots by holding them to a 32 percent mark and forcing 19 turnovers in the second half as Shawnee State ultimately grew its lead out to the final 62-49 margin. The 49 points given up marked the 17th time that SSU held its opponent to under 60 points during its 21-game winning streak.
“We’ve worked really hard on that end of the floor,” Nickel said. “In the second half, I felt that we were able to make the game a little more one-dimensional. They were getting the ball into the low post a little bit, and they were scoring on dribble penetration, so the goal was to try to push them out on the perimeter more and try to shoot some threes. They were able to hit some threes late in the clock. I felt like our kids did a good job, overall, on our defensive gameplan.”
In the victory, Shawnee State again showed why it is, indeed, a force as the unit’s balance showed in spades during the contest. Lovely scored seven of her 11 points in the first quarter of action, Cummins scored seven of her 11 tallies in the second quarter of play, and Ridout added seven of her 14 in the third stanza to allow the Bears to keep the Patriots off-kilter from a defensive standpoint.
“We were just so balanced with our scoring and on top of that, we really took care of the basketball,” Nickel said. “Having only six turnovers for the game is pretty pleasing to see as a head coach.”
With the victory, SSU (26-3, 13-0 MSC) will make the trip further down Interstate 75 on Saturday evening as the Bears head to Marietta, Ga. to face Life. The Running Eagles were trounced by Shawnee State, 98-54, in an MSC bout on Jan. 25 in Portsmouth.
“We’re just going to take things one game at a time, and try to finish strong heading into postseason play and the Mid-South Conference Tournament that starts next week,” Nickel said when asked about the overall mentality of the team. “We don’t want to get ahead of that. We just want to concentrate and stay focused. That’s something that we’ve emphasized. We want to be focused and come out with a purpose on every possession of every game so that we execute our gameplan for the opponent on that day, and play to our overall standards.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @KColleyPDT