Bears look to knock off Saints, Tigers from ranked perches

After a fruitful first half that saw the Shawnee State men’s basketball program match its best start since the 1995-96 and 2002-03 seasons, the Bears will look to improve on a possible banner year as SSU starts the new year by jumping straight into Mid-South Conference action with a contest at Thomas More on Saturday afternoon and a huge bout against No. 1 Georgetown on Monday evening in Waller Gymnasium. SSU will travel north on the well-known AA Highway to take on the Saints on Jan. 4 while Georgetown will make the two-hour trip to Portsmouth on Jan. 6.

As part of Shawnee State’s home doubleheader, the New Boston Biddy Basketball League and the Western boys basketball program will be in attendance on Monday as special guests. The SSU and Thomas More women will feature a ranked matchup between the No. 7 and No. 21 women’s basketball programs in America.

SSU men (11-4, 1-1 MSC)

(RV) Thomas More (12-1, 0-1 MSC) notes

  • In their first season inside the Mid-South Conference and the NAIA realm, Thomas More holds an 11-3 overall record.
  • Notable victories for the Saints include two victories over Asbury, Ky. (73-55 and 87-67), a win over Rio Grande (76-51), and two dubs in the Hoosier State against Taylor (60-55) and Marian (78-76, overtime).
  • Thomas More currently has five players who are averaging at least 9.8 points per game or more in 2019-20, with 6-5 freshman guard Reid Jolly (16.7 points, 5.7 rebounds, 61.3 percent shooting, 52.9 percent three-point shooting) and 6-3 junior guard Keegan Saben (16.3 points, 3.7 rebounds, 57.6 percent shooting, 40 percent three-point shooting) leading the charge. 6-6 sophomore center Ryan Batte (12.8 points, 4.5 rebounds, 53.2 percent shooting, 50 percent three-point shooting), 6-4 junior guard Luke Rudy (11.7 points, 5.2 rebounds, 46.5 percent shooting, 41.3 percent three-point shooting), and 6-5 junior forward Garren Bertsch (9.8 points, three rebounds, 66.1 percent shooting, 53.3 percent three-point shooting) make up a strong, yet well-balanced lineup.
  • Justin Ray (28-10) is in his second season with the Saints.

No. 1 Georgetown (11-0, 1-0 MSC) notes

  • Georgetown holds a perfect 11-0 record on the season. The Tigers have scored at least 110 or more points in a game five times during the 2019-20 season and haven’t scored less than 88 points in any of their 11 victories this season. They’ve also won 10 of their 11 contests by double-digits.
  • Notable victories for the Tigers include victories over Washington Adventist, Md. (88-82), Vanguard, Calif. (88-73), and Cumberlands, Ky. (91-76).
  • The Tigers are currently being paced by five double-figure scorers and seven players who are averaging at least nine points per game so far this season.
    • 6-5 senior forward Nico Clareth (21.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.6 steals, 46.4 percent shooting, 42 percent from three-point range)
    • 6-1 junior guard Jake Ohmer (18.1 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 47 percent shooting, 49.2 percent from three-point range)
    • 6-7 senior forward Chris Coffey (17.3 points, 12.4 rebounds, 1.5 steals, 1.2 blocks, 70.8 percent shooting)
    • 6-5 senior guard Jacob Conway (15.1 points, 3.6 rebounds, 53.8 percent shooting, 39.7 percent three-point shooting)
    • 6-0 senior guard Eljay Cowherd (12.8 points, 8.8 assists, 3.9 rebounds, 2.1 steals, 54.5 percent shooting, 40.7 percent three-point shooting)
    • 6-8 freshman forward Puoch Puoch (9.7 points, 4.5 rebounds, 1.2 steals, 71.4 percent shooting)
    • 6-5 freshman forward Kyran Jones (nine points, 7.8 rebounds, 59.7 percent shooting, 40 percent three-point shooting)
  • Chris Briggs (230-59) is in his ninth season at Georgetown. Briggs has won two national championships with the Tigers as its head coach (2013 and 2019), and has won no less than 24 games in each of his first eight seasons at the helm of the program.

Keys for SSU:

  • Control the tempo. Georgetown and Thomas More are out to a combined 23-1 start for a reason, and that’s because they play efficiently in an up-tempo style. Georgetown shoots 55.6 percent from the field while Thomas More shoots 53.9 percent from the floor, and neither team turns the ball over a great deal (Georgetown averages 12.1 turnovers per game, Thomas More 13.3). If Shawnee State wants to win either contest, the Bears will have to control the pace.
  • Utilize size advantage. It’s been reiterated throughout the season, but by controlling the pace, Shawnee State can utilize a size advantage that few in the NAIA can match up with. There isn’t a single player on Thomas More’s roster taller than 6-6, while Georgetown doesn’t have a player above 6-8. Getting EJ Onu and Justin Johnson touches in the low and high post areas will be key. Selby Hind-Wills and Tim Biakapia have been huge in that area, as well.
  • Limit turnovers. Shawnee State can’t play out of control. Despite turning the ball over 17.3 times per contest, the Bears are 11-4 which speaks to how talented SSU is as a team. At the same token, however, that record could easily be 14-1 if not for 17 turnovers in a four-point loss to Stillman (Ala.), 19 turnovers in a three-point loss to Cumberland (Tenn.), and 20 turnovers in a three-point loss at the buzzer to Indiana Wesleyan. To win tight basketball games that will occur throughout the rest of the season, limiting turnovers by even three or four possessions per game will give Shawnee State a fighting chance in every game it plays in.