No. 11 SSU uses gutsy effort in win over No. 13 Talladega

In a quintessential gritty effort by Jeff Nickel’s club, the women’s basketball program at Shawnee State University put together strong efforts on both ends of the floor as the No. 11-ranked Bears forced the 13th-ranked Talladega (Ala.) Tornadoes into 24 turnovers while collecting 10 swipes defensively, and received outstanding production offensively from Bailey Cummins and Brandie Snow throughout as the pair played all 40 minutes — with the former adding in a first-half buzzer beater — as part of a 82-74 victory on Monday evening at Waller Gymnasium in Portsmouth.

Shawnee State, who shot a rock solid 30-for-67 as a unit, put together a red-hot shooting mark in the first half by shooting 16-for-29 from the floor and 6-for-10 from deep as the Bears built a seven-point halftime lead (42-35). The Bears used excellent team rebounding to combat Talladega’s length on the frontline, and battled the Tornadoes valiantly on the boards as five players accumulated six or more rebounds in the contest.

Defensively, the Bears, while allowing the Tornadoes to shoot 9-of-16 for the contest, made life difficult for Talladega by controlling the tempo and playing with the discipline that has made Shawnee State a feared opponent. Talladega was held to 11-of-28 in the first half (39.3 percent) and a 15-of-37 mark in the second half (40.5 percent) as SSU held Talladega to a 26-of-65 margin (40 percent) from the field.

In a contest that was played at a frenetic pace throughout the entirely of the affair, neither unit wasted time trading the lead back and forth as both teams traded the lead five times over the first two-and-a-half minutes of action before Talladega eventually took a six-point average.

Cummins, however, willed her team back into the fight. The senior guard, who amassed a season-high with 25 points while amassing her second-highest assist total of the season in obtaining 11 assists for the contest, found Anyia Pride on a rifle pass inside to kickstart a 12-6 spurt where Cummins assisted on three baskets, including two treys from Snow, to bring Shawnee State back within two possessions.

Carson Roney added in outstanding play defensively in the first quarter with her prowess both in rebounding and contesting shots — including a pair of fercious blocks that helped shift the tide in the quarter with just under two minutes to play in the opening frame — and by the time Cummins nailed a floater from the left side with four seconds to play in the first frame, the Bears had taken a 23-20 first-quarter lead.

Shawnee State used its strong finish over the quarter’s final six minutes of action to catapult itself into a complete second frame. In addition to holding Talladega to just 15 points over the entirety of the second 10-minute stanza, the duo combined for seven of the Bears’ first nine points in the frame, while Sydney King and Anyia Pride, who combined for 17 points and 12 rebounds, added in critical buckets and hustle plays as evidenced by Pride’s bucket with 7:02 to play in the half and King’s crucial three-pointer with 3:21 to play in the opening 20 minutes that broke a 32-all tie.

When Pride was forced to go to the bench with two fouls, Leah Wingeier added in huge minutes as Shawnee State effectively broke down the Talladega offense. Wingeier, who posted seven points in the contest on a perfect 3-for-3 from the field, kickstarted a massive 7-0 run for the Bears as SSU broke a 35-35 tie — the game’s seventh such tie in the opening half — by knocking down back-to-back low-post buckets.

The biggest pair of plays, however, came in the half’s final 15 seconds.

As Talladega’s Rosa Reynaud drove to the basket, the junior lowered her shoulder, and Snow, who was right on Reynaud the whole way, took the charge with three seconds left to give Shawnee State the basketball back. Cummins, who received the enusing inbound pass on a sideout, zigged and zagged before finding open space to launch a 35-footer that sailed straight through the net as the horn sounded to create a huge multi-possession swing as the Bears took a 42-35 lead at the halftime break.

That three-point bomb from Cummins again elevated Shawnee State as the Bears, fired up following the trey from their senior teammate, busted the lead open to begin the second half. Over the first 5:20 of the second half of competition, four different players scored for the Bears as Cummins, Pride, and Snow scored four points apiece while Wingeier finished through a hard shot to the mouth en route to an and-one finish that gave Shawnee State its biggest lead of the night, 57-43, with 4:40 to play in the third quarter.

Talladega, however, used its 9-of-16 shooting from deep to stay within range of the Bears. The Tornadoes, in fact, got two big threes from Anna Radenkova and Kirstin Crook, with Radenkova adding in a second bucket from the right block to cut the Shawnee State lead to 59-56 with 17 seconds to play in the third quarter before Cummins, for the third consecutive quarter, posted a statement bucket — again, a floater with four seconds left but in the middle of the lane as opposed to the left side — to push the Shawnee State lead to a 61-55 margin with 30 minutes of game action gone.

Still, the Tornadoes kept the pressure on the Bears. Over the opening three minutes of action, Radenkova knocked down another trey while Diamond Jolly and Brijanee Moore combined for baskets as Talladega, who held Shawnee State without a bucket over the first 3:54 of the fourth quarter, tied the score at 63 apiece.

Not rattled in the least, however, Shawnee State countered by going on a game-changing run. Fueled by two Cummins finds to Hagen Schaefer for corner treys, the latter — a junior from nearby Portsmouth — allowed the Bears to go on a 9-2 run that gave the Bears the room it needed to close out the game for good as SSU, who led 72-65 with 4:12 to play, didn’t allow Talladega to come any closer than four points from the lead the rest of the way.

Cummins, who added in two steals to her aforementioned 25-point, 11-assist statline, accumulated those stats while shooting 10-of-18 from the field and posting a 2.2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. Snow, who has been efficient all season long herself, added in 18 points, eight rebounds, four assists and four steals while going 6-of-14 from the field and 3-of-7 from deep. Pride, who posted 10 points and six rebounds in just 15 minutes of playing time due to foul trouble, went 5-of-6 from the floor, while King posted seven points, six rebounds, and two steals herself.

Schaefer’s two clutch fourth-quarter treys, Wingeier’s seven critical points between the second and third quarters of play, and seven big rebounds by Roney, along with two blocks, also were huge for Shawnee State, who moved to a perfect 7-0 with the win.

The Bears will play Miami-Hamilton on Saturday inside the friendly confines of Waller Gymnasium. Game time is set for 2 p.m.

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