For the first time in school history, the men’s basketball program at Shawnee State will be playing in late March.
In his third season as the head coach of his alma mater, DeLano Thomas has guided the Bears to the school’s first-ever NAIA Division I National Tournament appearance as Shawnee State obtained a No. 7 overall seed in the 32-team field.
Shawnee State, who finished with a 21-11 overall record following regular season and Mid-South Conference Tournament competition, will play No. 2 Faulkner (Ala.) Wednesday, March 18 at 2:15 p.m. EST/1:15 p.m. CST in the Naismith Bracket of the NAIA D-I field. The tournament will be held in Kansas City, Mo.
The tournament berth caps off a remarkable coaching job by Thomas and his staff, who have improved the winning percentage of the program in every season since Thomas took over the reins in the 2017-18 season.
After defeating four opponents ranked in the NAIA Division I Top 25 in 2018-19, Shawnee State upped its production as a more consistent ballclub in 2019-20. The Bears clinched its first winning record in Mid-South Conference play in seven years, won 20 games in a season for the first time in 17 years, and also advanced to a conference tournament semifinal for the first time in 17 years.
In accomplishing those tasks, Shawnee State defeated Pikeville — who earned a No. 8 overall tournament slot in this year’s tournament field — in both regular season meetings for the second season running, and claimed three huge victories over Campbellsville — including an opening round Mid-South Conference Tournament victory — that arguably made the difference in SSU obtaining its invitation to the dance. The Bears also defeated No. 5-seeded Thomas More on the road, and in doing so, were one of only four teams to hand the Saints a loss inside Connor Convocation Center.
Along with those six victories, the Bears also swept Life (Ga.) and split their regular season meetings with Cumberlands (Ky.) and Lindsey Wilson to round out their strong resume.
In addition to SSU, UPike and Thomas More, Georgetown — the No. 1 overall seed — and Cumberlands, who earned a No. 4 seed, also made the NAIA D-I National Tournament from the Mid-South. The Bears and Tigers, who were both placed in the Naismith, could potentially play one another in a Saturday, March 21 NAIA Quarterfinal meeting if both teams are to advance to that stage in the D-I Tournament.
For more information on SSU Bears Athletics, visit www.ssubears.com or visit the Twitter and Facebook pages at https://twitter.com/SSUBears and https://www.facebook.com/SSUBears. For more information on how to join the SSU Bear Club, visit https://givetossu.com/bear-club.