Throughout the 2019-20 season, the play of Kyree Elder had been nothing short of a light to the match in each of Shawnee State’s four contests — all victories — in outstanding performances to start the year.
In those first four games alone, Elder had done it all. In addition to bringing the scoring presence that he provided on the floor with a 15-point output, the senior averaged eight rebounds, 3.8 assists, and two steals per contest over the opening four games of the season against Puerto Rico-Bayamon, Maine-Fort Kent, Wright State-Lake, and Midway.
However, it was Saturday evening’s performance that may have truly been Elder’s coming out party.
In a dominating performance where Elder simply took matters into his own hands, the senior was, without question, in a world of his own as the Antioch, Tenn. native posted 14 of his game-high 31 points as part of a masterful 22-0 run by Shawnee State to begin the second half of competition, and allowed the Bears to turn a 39-30 first-half lead into a massive 61-30 advantage with 11:51 to play in the second half as SSU never looked back en route to a 80-61 victory over West Virginia Tech for its fifth victory in as many games to start the season.
With its 5-0 start to the 2019-20 season, the ‘19-20 unit joins only the 1995-96 and 2002-03 Shawnee State men’s basketball programs to ever start a season 5-0 overall. Each of those programs won their first six affairs during their respective campaigns — and went on to have 20-win seasons apiece.
Elder, who canned 12 of his 19 attempts from the field, was even better from inside the line as the senior dropped in nine of his 10 shots from the field. The 6-5 forward also grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds to collect his second double-double of the year and hit four of his five free throw attempts in an otherworldly performance.
Down 12-5 to West Virginia Tech at the start of the contest, Shawnee State rallied its way back to the lead as EJ Onu and Desmond Crosby, Jr. nailed back-to-back three-point attempts, and, following a low-post basket from Onu, obtained two additional treys from Elder and Tim Biakapia to reclaim the lead on a critical 14-3 run that gave SSU a 19-15 advantage with 10:23 to play in the opening half of competition. Elder then scored two additional times inside as the Bears went on a 8-0 surge to take a 29-19 lead with 6:50 to go in the first half of play.
Later on the first half of action, West Virginia Tech made a run by cutting the lead back down to a four-point cushion as Junior Arrey and Tamon Scruggs nailed three-point field goals to cut Shawnee State’s lead to a 29-25 advantage. Elder, however, stopped that run cold in its tracks as the senior scored two additional times — including once from the right elbow — while Jakiel Wells added in a critical trey with 15 seconds left in the first half as the Bears took a 39-30 first half lead.
Fueled by a strong end to the first half from a personal standpoint — a half that included a team-high 13 points and six rebounds — Elder went to work as soon as the second half tipped off.
Following opening-half buckets from Onu and Crosby, Jr., Elder got himself going in the second half with a pair of free throws with 17:05 to play to put SSU up by a 45-30 margin, then scored in a variety of ways from there by going inside for a one-handed hammer, nailing two additional treys, finishing off a wicked alley-oop, and adding in another pair of free throws as part of his 18 second-half tallies — which he scored in a span of eight minutes and 46 seconds.
By the time Elder had finished his personal assault on the West Virginia Tech defense, Shawnee State had extended its margin to a 65-34 mark — which essentially put the contest out of reach at that point.
Behind Elder, Onu, once again, put together another strong defensive performance as the junior from Cleveland, Ohio posted 12 points, nine rebounds, and six blocks in 25 minutes of game action. Onu, who leads all of NAIA Division I in blocks and blocks per game, has 25 blocks to his credit for an insane average of five blocks per contest.
Following the duo, Justin Johnson’s nine points and six rebounds, along with the guard play of Wells and Crosby, Jr. — who combined for 10 points, nine rebounds, and seven assists to just two turnovers for a 3.5-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio — and Selby Hind-Wills’ eight rebounds, seven points, and four assists in just eight minutes of playing time led Shawnee State to not only its fifth straight victory to start the year, but its fifth double-digit victory to start off the campaign, as well.
With the victory, Shawnee State will head to Oxford, Ohio to face off against Miami (Ohio) on Monday evening in an exhibition contest. Game time is set for 7 p.m. at Millett Hall, which is the home site of the NCAA Division I, Mid-American Conference (MAC) program.