PORTSMOUTH — Finally, the Shawnee State University Bears are back home in their own beds —and can sleep better following Monday night’s non-conference clash against visiting Lourdes.
That’s because the Bears — playing their first home game in exactly three full weeks —benefited from an opening 15-4 second-half run, and sealed the deal down the stretch from the free-throw line.
The end result was Shawnee State —the 25th-ranked team in all of NAIA Division I —defeating the Gray Wolves, the 13th-ranked squad in all of NAIA Division II, 79-72 inside the James A. Rhodes Athletic Center.
Both clubs now own 16 victories, as Shawnee State is 16-6 while Lourdes falls to 16-7.
While the contest was a good non-league encounter for both, the Bears were just glad to be back playing at home for the first time after 21 days.
Of course, lots of things in the world —both good and bad — have happened since then.
More on that later.
However, the crowd at Waller Gymnasium did get energized after Justin Johnson’s pair of late first-half dunks, whose second slam off a rebound putback beat the first-half buzzer —giving the Bears a 30-28 halftime advantage that they refused to relinquish.
In fact, and in part by holding Lourdes without a field goal for the final four minutes and 25 seconds of the first half and the opening 2:46 of the second, the Bears pushed out to as large as a 45-32 lead — thanks to their aforementioned 15-4 run over a span of 3:35.
But the Gray Wolves, with the aid of 13 second-half turnovers by the Bears, wouldn’t go away —and four times reduced the deficit to six (47-41, 51-45, 53-47 and 71-65) while three more times (71-66, 74-69 and 77-72) trimming it to five in the final 1:40.
Although, Shawnee State shot 30 —yes count ‘em 30 second-half free throws — part of 37 for the entire game and 22 for the final seven minutes.
The Bears were in the bonus-situation for the final 8:49, and sank 26 total including 16 over that same seven-minute stretch.
Afterward, Shawnee State head coach DeLano Thomas was just “excited” for his Bears to be playing at home.
“It feels different. It feels different to be out here with people that are here for you and supporting you. The road really helped us to get our togetherness right, but there is just no place like home. It’s good to be back,” said Thomas.
And back in a big way were seniors Kyree Elder and E.J. Onu, as Elder amassed a game-high 25 points on eight field goals and 8-of-10 free throws while grabbing a game-high 10 rebounds.
Onu, already the NAIA’s leading shot-blocker at an average of 5.6 per game entering Monday night, swatted seven in his 38 minutes of action —making it at least three consecutive contests of seven blocks after back-to-back nine-block tilts.
That is the highest average in the NAIA since the 2007-08 campaign.
Elder and Onu combined for perhaps the Bears’ biggest defensive stop in a second half full of them, as —with Shawnee State leading 75-69 and 43 seconds remaining —Onu amounted his seventh block and Elder grabbed his final of 10 rebounds.
Elder, in the final 33-and-a-half seconds, put the finishing touches on by sinking foul shots — sandwiched around a Mike Bruce three-pointer for Lourdes.
“E.J. Onu did a very good job on our back line. We didn’t contain the ball as well as we normally do, but we did a solid enough job of it to where our defense led to offense,” said Thomas. “Any time we can do that, that equals to a three-point play or a good basket for us. When Kyree got downhill, he was under control. “
Onu added 18 points on six field goals and 4-of-6 foul shots, as the six-foot 11-inch standout stepped out twice — and bagged a pair of threes.
Elder and Onu combined for 43 points, as Johnson chipped in a dozen on five field goals and 2-of-5 free throws —while Selby Hind-Wills and Desmond Crosby each tallied 10.
The Bears — despite 20 turnovers — shot 44-percent on 24-of-54, and made 70-percent (26-of-37) from the charity stripe.
“We’re preaching on the offensive end to play unselfish, and defensively we want to play as one and we hang our hats on our defense and rebounding,” said Thomas.
And, don’t forget free throws.
The Gray Wolves —coached by former Ohio State University standout Dennis Hopson —were forced to foul late in an attempt to catch up, but the Bears bucketed all but six of their 22 in the final seven minutes.
“Shooting 37 free throws is always going to put you in a position to win a game. Especially at home,” said Thomas. “We want to be as close as possible to that 37.”
The Bears got to that 37 on Monday night, in part, thanks to that 15-4 run.
Shawnee State scored the opening 10 points in the first 2:35 of the second period —on a Hind-Wills three-pointer, two Hind-Wills freebies, an Elder old-fashioned three-point play and an Onu dunk off a long downfloor pass.
In fact, Lourdes’ first field goal of that second half — and seven-minute and 11-second drought — was actually an Onu goal-tend of Nick Welch at the 17:14 mark.
McRay White then meshed two free throws for Lourdes to make it 42-32, as White’s dunk two minutes later was actually the first true basket for the Gray Wolves in the second half.
“We had to figure out how to have some energy. The last five minutes of the first half, we won that moment. Then in the second half we talked about setting the tone in the first five minutes and really trying to keep it going,” said Thomas. “We did a really good job of setting that tone, but we kind of let them come back into the game instead of extending out.”
The Gray Wolves were within six three times over a five-and-a-half minute span, but all three times in its attempt to get closer, Lourdes came up empty —and twice Elder drove the other way for an old-fashioned three-point play.
Elder converted a steal for the first one — then Onu rejected a shot, Elder drove, and his three-point play pushed the lead back to 56-47 with 7:51 remaining.
Then, six minutes and 11 seconds later, Lourdes found itself within five at 71-66 —and made a steal.
But Kenny Coleman missed a three-pointer for the Gray Wolves, and Johnson secured the biggest of his seven rebounds.
In the first half, Johnson —before his dunk to beat the buzzer and give the Bears the lead for good —capped seven unanswered points in a three-minute span in which Shawnee State erased a 26-21 deficit.
Crosby, in transition, led a pass to Johnson for the two-handed throwdown at the 1:05 mark to make it 28-26.
That was the last of three lead changes and four ties, as it was actually an inauspicious start for Shawnee State — for the Gray Wolves raced out to an 8-0 lead in the opening minute and 53 seconds, thanks to back-to-back three-pointers by Welch and Deuce Martin.
“We did not come out with energy. Lourdes has been playing really well on the road. They came out and set the tone of the first half,” said Thomas.
Following Thomas taking a timeout, the Bears bounced back for the next seven points, including a Crosby trifecta.
Over the next 15 minutes and 40 seconds, from the 16:45 to the 1:05 mark of the opening half, the Gray Wolves would lead anywhere from one to five points —while Shawnee State’s only other lead was at 17-16 at the seven-minute mark on an Onu slam.
But thanks to one of Clif Snow’s three threes, that lead lasted a mere 40 seconds —until the Bears went ahead for good six minutes and five seconds later and never trailed for the final 21:05.
Coleman and Snow scored 14 for the Gray Wolves, which shot just 32-percent on 23-of-71, including 9-of-25 from three-point range.
Welch and Bruce bucketed 13 points apiece, as both Coleman and Bruce were 5-of-6 from the foul line —part of 17-of-19 overall.
The Gray Wolves were on a roll when they rolled into Portsmouth on Monday, having won 14 of their last 16 games.
But, they ran into a bunch of Bears hungry for another quality win — and happy to be at home.
“We knew coming in they were very hot, so this is a good gutty win against a very good team,” said Thomas.
The third-year SSU mentor also explained how his Bears, like the rest of the basketball world, were handling the tragic passing of former NBA superstar Kobe Bryant —who was killed on Sunday along with his 13-year-old daughter and seven other individuals in a helicopter crash near Los Angeles.
A moment of silence was held for Bryant before the game.
“I’ve been really talking to the guys about the Kobe Bryant situation. Just how crucial the moment is and how fortunate we are to play the game of basketball,” said Thomas. “I’m thankful for that and I’m thankful to use this platform to help these young men be better men when they leave here.”
But first, the Bears leave town for yet another road show — on Thursday night in the Mid-South Conference, at Georgetown (Ky).
* * *
Lourdes 28 44 — 72
Shawnee State 30 49—79
Nick Welch 5 2-2 13, Julian Egbo 3 0-0 6, Deuce Martin 1 0-0 3, Kenny Coleman 4 5-6 14, Little Anderson 1 0-0 3, Clif Snow 4 3-3 14, Tyler Davis 1 0-0 2, Mike Bruce 3 5-6 13, McRay White 1 2-2 4; TOTALS 23 17-19 72; Three-point goals: 9 (Clif Snow 3, Mike Bruce 2, Nick Welch, Deuce Martin, Kenny Coleman and Little Anderson 1 apiece)
SHAWNEE STATE (16-6)
Tim Biakapia 0 0-0 0, Selby Hind-Wills 2 5-6 10, Kyree Elder 8 8-10 25, E.J. Onu 6 4-6 18, Jakiel Wells 0 1-2 1, D’Andre Price 0 0-0 0, Desmond Crosby 2 5-6 10, Dakota Pritchard 0 0-0 0, Ermias Nega 1 1-1 3, Justin Johnson 5 2-5 12; TOTALS 24 26-37 79; Three-point goals: 5 (E.J. Onu 2, Selby Hind-Wills, Kyree Elder and Desmond Crosby 1 apiece)
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved