SSU prepares for two-game stretch versus ranked opponents

The men’s basketball program at Shawnee State will continue its tough stretch of affairs over the next several days, as the Bears will take on No. 16 Cumberlands (Ky.) in a Mid-South Conference matchup at Williamsburg, Ky. on Saturday and follow that matchup with a nonconference bout at Waller Gymnasium against the No. 13-ranked team in NAIA Division II, Lourdes, on Monday evening.

All three teams, who sit with 15 wins apiece, have combined to defeat seven opponents who were nationally ranked in either the NAIA Division I or Division II Top 25 Poll at the time of facing them. Shawnee State and Lourdes have combined for six such victories on their own accord.

Below is a preview of both contests.

No. 16 Cumberlands (Ky.) notes

Notable victories:

Defeated No. 21 Thomas More (72-61)

Defeated Campbellsville (84-63)

Defeated (RV) Lindsey Wilson (70-65)

The Patriots have put four players in double-figures:

Tevin Olison, 6-4 Jr. (15.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 44.8 percent shooting, 39.3 percent three-point shooting)

Jordan Griggs, 6-4 Sr. (13.3 points, 3.4 rebounds, 45 percent shooting, 46.7 percent three-point shooting)

Jahi Hinson, 6-3 So. (11.9 points, 3.8 rebounds, 45.4 percent shooting)

Caleb Taylor, 6-8 Sr. (11.3 points, 10.8 rebounds, 68.2 percent shooting)

Donnie Butcher (427-197) is in his 20th season coaching at Cumberlands. He has led the Patriots to 14 NAIA National Tournament appearances and 16 20-win-or-more campaigns.

NAIA Division II No. 13 Lourdes notes

Notable victories:

Defeated No. 23 Indiana Tech (65-64, Nov. 16) and finished off a sweep of the Warriors (73-72, Jan. 18)

Defeated No. 12 Cornerstone, Mich. (71-59, Nov. 26)

Defeated No. 21 Union, Ky. (64-62, Nov. 30)

Gray Wolves also have close losses to No. 8 Mount Vernon (95-87, overtime, Nov. 8), No. 24 Saint Francis, Ind. (74-72, Nov. 5), and No. 9 Madonna (72-68, Nov. 20).

The Gray Wolves have put two players in double-figures, with 6-6 junior Clif Snow (18.4 points, seven rebounds, 2.4 assists, 46.1 percent shooting) and 6-9 junior Nick Welch (10.1 points, seven rebounds, 48.6 percent shooting) leading the way.

Interesting fact: SSU freshman guard Jakiel Wells and Lourdes sophomore guard Kenny Coleman were high school teammates at Toledo St. Francis DeSales. Both have been integral with their play this season, with Coleman averaging 9.7 points, 3.2 assists and 2.1 rebounds on 43.7 percent shooting and 46.5 percent from three-point range and Wells averaging 4.8 points, 4.8 rebounds, and three assists per game.

Dennis Hopson (15-5) is in his first year at Lourdes. Hopson was Ohio State’s all-time leading scorer (2,096 points) during his college playing days, and was the third overall pick of the 1987 NBA Draft after winning Big 10 Player of the Year honors and All-American accolades. He spent seven seasons as an assistant coach at Northwood (Fla.) and NCAA Division I Bowling Green State and held a high school head coaching position at Bedford before taking his current position.

Keys for SSU:

Control the glass. Without question, Shawnee State has done an outstanding job in this area as evidenced by its third-place showing in rebounding margin (plus-14) and total rebounds per game (45.7). However, Cumberlands (ninth in rebounding margin in NAIA D-1, 10.8) and Lourdes (23rd in rebounding margin in NAIA D-II, 7.1) have, like SSU, utilized the boards to create their own success. Shawnee State already won one rebounding battle against a national top-25 rebounding unit in Pikeville (10th, 10.1 rebounds per game in its 68-57 victory), and it will be critical for SSU to continue to win those battles.

Utilize size to disrupt shots. Offensively, Cumberland and Lourdes are very good, with both teams combining to shoot 47.3 percent and 45.7 percent from the floor. Shawnee State needs to continue to scramble out to the perimeter and force teams to drive inside, where shots could be altered.

Keep offensive balance at the forefront. Over the last three games, Shawnee State’s had a different high scorer while placing at least four players at eight points or above in the scoring column. There doesn’t need to be a different player scoring more points than anybody else every other game, but ball movement, which keeps offensive engagement up as a whole, will again be key if the Bears want to keep moving forward as a unit.

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