PORTSMOUTH — Over the past four years — but especially over the last 36 games — DeLano Thomas and the Shawnee State men’s basketball program have found a way to close out tight contests.
The Bears, which received votes in the NAIA Men’s Basketball Preseason Coaches Poll, held the Life (Ga.) Running Eagles to 20-of-68 shooting from the field (29.4-percent), won the rebounding battle by a plus-eight margin (45-37), and put James Jones, E.J. Onu and Dakota Prichard in double figures from a scoring standpoint — all in a 63-53 victory on Thursday evening at Waller Gymnasium.
With the win, the Bears moved to 3-0 on the year — as the contest marked the Mid-South Conference opener.
Along with holding Life to a paltry field-goal showing, Shawnee State kept the Running Eagles in check from long distance, as the Bears held Life to just 2-of-18 from three-point range.
The Bears also got to the free-throw stripe effectively, making 19 of their 29 attempts compared to just 15 attempts total — and 11 makes — for the Running Eagles.
Jones takes off in second half
Held to three points after the opening half of play, senior wing James Jones proved to be a catalyst for Shawnee State — as the Chicago native scored 18 second-half points to help lead the Bears to victory.
While Jones didn’t have his best shooting night — going 6-of-16 from the field — the reigning Mid-South Conference Player of the Week continued to show off his productivity in additional facets of the game.
The 6-4 standout grabbed eight rebounds — including seven on the defensive end — and notched four assists to just one turnover in an efficient 34 minutes.
Onu dominates again defensively
Leading the way for the Bears on the back end?
Who else but Onu, of course.
The senior led the SSU output with team-highs of eight points and five rebounds at the halftime break, and after not recording a single block in the opening half, posted six blocks alone in the second half — while also finishing with a double-double (13 points and 10 rebounds) on an efficient 5-of-9 shooting mark.
One of those makes came on a crucial tip-dunk that took place with just under a minute-and-a-half to go after Jones missed a layup, with Onu leaping from the right block to throw the ball back through the hoop.
For his career, Onu now has 394 blocks after his six-block effort on Thursday night.
That amounts to an astonishing 4.1 blocks per game average over the course of his 95-game career.
With six additional blocks, he will join elite company with players which have posted at least 400 or more blocks during collegiate action for a career — including Tim Duncan, Alonzo Mourning and Shaquille O’Neal.
Prichard clutch from three again
With a double-digit lead being trimmed down all the way to three points in the closing stages, Shawnee State’s Prichard, again, proved to be cold-blooded.
Finding room to spare in the right corner, Prichard iced the game with 53.3 seconds left — nailing a massive trey to put Shawnee State up by a 59-53 gap.
Prichard finished just 3-of-9 from deep, but the senior wing from Lima went a respectable 2-of-6 from long range — and supplied four rebounds and a steal while turning the ball over just once.
In addition to the efforts of the above, Issac Abergut’s eight points and five rebounds were critical — as was the six points, six rebounds and two assists that Donoven Carlisle supplied.
The SSU men (3-0, 1-0 MSC) have a change in their upcoming schedule, as the Martin Methodist (Tenn.) contest has been postponed to Dec. 10.
The Bears will now play in the Bevo Francis Classic at Rio Grande, where Shawnee State will face Great Lakes Christian College at 1 p.m. at Newt Oliver Arena.
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 or for sponsorship of specific SSU players or events, visit https://givetossu.com/bear-club and https://givetossu.com/sponsorthebears.