The men’s basketball program at Shawnee State University will play in five challenges or classics, including two in honor of former SSU Bear Sean Elliott, will travel to Miami (Ohio) for an exhibition matchup, and will host six of its final eight games at Waller Gymnasium in a 28-game slate that was announced by SSU men’s basketball head coach DeLano Thomas on Thursday morning.
Thomas, who played for the Blue and White from 2002 to 2004 and became a Hall of Famer at SSU based on his play with the Bears as a player, will look to improve the squad’s overall results during the 2019-20 campaign after accumulating records of 14-17 and 14-16 in his first pair of seasons as Shawnee State’s head coach.
We’re excited for this group of young men to see them develop some unbreakable bonds through the adversity and success we’re going to have during the year,” Thomas said. “It’s been great to see the commitment that this team has shown this summer. We will continue to build each day. We have a chance to have a special year. It’s a great time to be a Bear!”
During the 2018-19 season, Thomas’ Bears defeated four ranked opponents, which was the most since the 2012-13 season, by holding serve against No. 10 Campbellsville (82-81, Jan. 26), No. 16 Pikeville (95-86, Jan. 5), and No. 19 Cumberlands, Ky. (83-74, Jan. 10) on their home floor. SSU also defeated UPike on the road, 102-97, on Feb. 14 to sweep the season series against Kelly Wells’ bunch before falling to Pikeville in the MSC Quarterfinals.
This season, Shawnee State — who has gone 16-8 inside the confines of Waller Gymnasium during Thomas’ tenure with the Bears — will open up the regular season portion of its schedule with three consecutive home contests following a preseason trip to the University of the Virgin Islands on Oct. 18 and 19, as the Bears host Wright State-Lake on Wednesday, Oct. 30 at 7 p.m. before hosting the inaugural Sean Elliott Classic on Friday, Nov. 1 and Saturday, Nov. 2 at 7 p.m. and 3 p.m., respectively in honor of Elliott — who still sits second all-time in career free throw percentage (.875) and tied for 12th all-time in three-point percentage (.397) in SSU history. The sharpshooting guard perished on June 15, 2015 in a car crash.
“I’m thankful for the time and memories that I had with Sean Elliott,” Thomas said. “Sean worked hard to become a Mid-South All-Conference standout in basketball. His effort and commitment to wanting to be different was contagious. Sean only knew how to compete in everything he did. This opportunity to be able to have our 1st SE Classic is special for our university, our men’s basketball, and most importantly to everyone who was able to share a memory with him The SE Classic will allow us to honor Sean’s legacy by continuing to raise money for the Sean Elliott scholarship.”
Following the three-game slate over a four-day stretch, SSU will hit the road for five straight games, including an exhibition matchup against Mid-American Conference member Miami (Ohio) on Monday, Nov. 4 at 7 p.m.
Neutral-site games against Stillman (Ala.) and Dalton State (Ga.), which occur at Campbellsville, Ky. as part of the Mid-South/Southern States Athletic Conferences Basketball Challenge on Friday, November 8 and Saturday, November 9 at 5 p.m. and 11 a.m., respectively, are followed by a trip to Grace College in Winona Lake, Ind. the following weekend, where a neutral site game against Huntington (Ind.) on Friday, November 15 at 4 p.m. is followed by a contest against Grace the following afternoon at 3 p.m., as part of the Cancer Care Classic, to conclude the five-game trip away from Waller Gymnasium.
An 18-day layoff following that trip concludes on Dec. 5, where the Bears return to action in front of their home fans at Waller Gymnasium as Cumberland (Tenn.) and Life (Ga.) make the trip to Portsmouth on Thursday, Dec. 5 and Saturday, Dec. 7 at 8 p.m. and 4 p.m., respectively, with a short road trip to Rio Grande (Tuesday, Dec. 10, 7 p.m.) following those affairs.
From there, home bouts against Northwestern Ohio and Great Lakes Christian on Thursday, Dec. 12 (7 p.m.) and Saturday, Dec. 14 (4 p.m.) immediately follow, while a quick road trip to Richmond, Ind. for a neutral-site game against Indiana Wesleyan for the First Bank Richmond Classic concludes the 2019 portion of the schedule and will be held on Saturday, Dec. 21 at 1 p.m.
On the 2020 portion of the calendar, six of Shawnee State’s first seven games in the calendar year will be on the road, including their first contest of the new decade, which will be against MSC newcomer Thomas More on Saturday, January 4 at 4 p.m. The lone home game of the month, which comes against Georgetown (Ky.) at 8 p.m. on Monday, January 6, follows that, with five straight road games, including four against perennial powerhouses in Campbellsville (Saturday, Jan. 11, 4 p.m.), Pikeville (Thursday, Jan. 16, 8 p.m.), Cumberlands (Ky.) (Friday, Jan. 25, 4 p.m.), and Georgetown (Thursday, Jan. 30, 8 p.m.) on the docket.
That tough road stretch, however, is followed by a potentially advantagous situation where Shawnee State plays six of its final eight home games at home.
Outside of back-to-back road trips to Life (Ga.) on Thursday, February 13 at 8 p.m. and Cumberland (Tenn.) on Saturday, February 15 at 4 p.m., the remaining regular season affairs in the month of February are at home, including Thomas More’s first trip to Waller Gymnasium as a MSC member on Saturday, Feb. 1 at 4 p.m., a Thursday, Feb. 6 bout against Campbellsville at 6 p.m. — which will also serve as Sean Elliott Night — a second Saturday bout against Lindsey Wilson on Feb. 8 at 4 p.m., and three consecutive home games, which come against Cumberlands (Ky.) on Thursday, Feb. 20 at 8 p.m., Lourdes on Tuesday, Feb. 25 at 7 p.m., and Pikeville on Saturday, Feb. 29, which will start at 4 p.m. and will serve as the final regular season Mid-South Conference contest as well as Senior Night for the Bears.
The 14-game home slate for the Bears, in all, is an uptick from last season, where Shawnee State had just 11 affairs inside the Waller Gymnasium halls. It also certainly doesn’t hurt that Thomas, as mentioned, has led the Bears to a .667 winning percentage on SSU’s home floor.
“It’s good to be able to play more games at home this season,” Thomas said. “We have a great home court advantage being able to play in front our great fans.”
In all, four lettermen return for Shawnee State, including star big man EJ Onu, who has already shattered the school record for career blocks (197). Onu, who will be this year’s recipient of the Sean Elliott scholarship, was second in the NAIA Division I realm in blocks per game (3.1) and total blocks (94) during the 2018-19 season. In addition to leading the Bears in blocks for a career, blocks in a season (103), blocks in a game (11), and blocks per game in a season (3.43), Onu currently sits in fifth place all-time in field goal percentage (.546) and is tied for eighth all-time for field goal percentage in a season (.570).
Onu, who led the team in points (12.0), rebounds (6.5), and minutes played (28.5) last season in addition to his block and field goal percentage standards, is followed by Justin Johnson, who averaged 10.4 points and 4.4 rebounds per game on 54 percent shooting, along with Tim Biakapia and Selby Hind-Wills, who bring 6.3 points and 4.4 rebounds and 5.5 points and 3.6 rebounds per game back to the table. As with Onu, Johnson, Biakapia, and Hind-Wills shot at least .509 from the floor or better. The quartet, in all, bring back 34.2 points and 18.9 rebounds per game to the floor for the 2019-20 season.
Beyond the regular season schedule, the Mid-South Conference Tournament will be held on Tuesday March 5 to Friday, March 8, 2020 in Bowling Green, Ky. If Shawnee State wins the Mid-South Conference Tournament or obtains an at-large berth, the Bears would play in the NAIA Division I National Championship Bracket, which will be held from Wednesday, March 20 to Tuesday, March 26, 2020 at Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City.
For more information on the Shawnee State men’s basketball program, visit www.ssubears.com.