For the second time in school history, the men’s basketball program at Shawnee State obtained a spot in the NAIA Division I Top 25 as the Bears claimed 55 points to move to No. 25 overall in the fourth edition of the 2019-20 NAIA Division I Poll ahead of a critical Mid-South Conference showdown at Pikeville.
SSU, who received six votes in the second version of the poll before falling out of the rankings in the third release, moved to its highest position after defeating (RV) Thomas More by a 15-point margin (64-49) at Connor Convocation Center on Jan. 4, halting a streak of four consecutive victories for the Saints. The Bears then rallied from a 25-8 first-half deficit to tie a contest against No. 1 Georgetown before falling to the Tigers by a scant 67-60 margin on Jan. 6. It stands as Georgetown’s closest affair this season.
Over the past week, Shawnee State capped off the first full week of 2020 by handling two traditional Mid-South Conference powerhouses on the road as the Bears claimed a 95-59 drubbing of No. 19 Lindsey Wilson at Biggers Sports Center and a 86-57 pummeling of Campbellsville at Powell Athletic Center. The former victory marked the second time in three seasons that the Bears knocked off Lindsey Wilson on its home court, while the latter win was SSU’s first at Campbellsville since Jan. 31, 2013.
During the 2019-20 season, Shawnee State has defeated four teams that were ranked or receiving votes at the time that the Bears faced their competition, including Lindsey Wilson, Thomas More, Life, and West Virginia Tech, with the latter of whom receiving votes in the NAIA Division II Poll at the start of the year. SSU also defeated the National Christian College Athletic Association Division II’s (NCCAA) No. 1-ranked team, Grace Christian, at Waller Gymnasium on Dec. 14.
Overall, Shawnee State’s defense has been the main catalyst for the Bears’ success so far in 2019. SSU is ranked first in total blocks (133), blocks per game (seven), and defensive field goal percentage (34.7). EJ Onu, by himself, has 102 of those 133 blocks, and with that total, has more blocks than any other program in the NAIA Division I realm. Onu, along with leading scorer Kyree Elder (17.6) and Justin Johnson (13.4), are averaging in double-figures.
SSU will take on No. 14 UPike at 8 p.m. on Thursday evening inside the Appalachian Wireless Arena. The SSU men follow that affair with a bout against Cumberlands (Ky.), who is ranked No. 16 in the new version of the polls, at 4 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 25.
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