PORTSMOUTH — Ahead by 11 points at halftime (39-28) and up by 15 points (44-29) with 17:17 remaining, the Shawnee State men’s basketball team couldn’t hold its early double-digit advantages — as visiting Rio Grande edged SSU 64-61 in a non-conference rivalry matchup at Waller Gymnasium on Wednesday afternoon.
Shawnee State (4-1), which shot a solid 14-of-30 in the opening half, got a massive performance from 6-11 big E.J. Onu — who scored 20 of his 24 tallies by going an outstanding 8-of-10 from the field over the first 20 minutes of action.
Onu’s play allowed SSU to take its largest lead of the game to that point heading into the break.
SSU also held a 20-11 first-half rebounding advantage, en route to a 39-27 edge on the glass.
However, Shawnee State, after opening up its lead to a 44-29 cushion with just over 17 minutes to go, struggled mightily in the second half.
The Bears went just 9-of-28 from the floor, with Onu himself only getting two shot attempts — makes with 14:59 and 4.8 seconds to play — in the final 20-minute stanza.
Rio Grande (4-2), by contrast, played to its strengths and dictated the second-half tempo, ultimately going 12-of-27 from three-point range while getting key plays from Shiloah Blevins and Redeetris Richardson in particular.
Blevins is a former South Webster standout.
Richardson went 4-of-7 from downtown and held SSU star wing James Jones to his lowest point total of the year (14 points on 13 shot attempts), while Blevins — who scored six straight tallies at one point— scored or assisted on 11 consecutive Rio Grande points to aid an 18-4 run that gave the RedStorm a 51-50 lead with 7:37 to go.
Dakota Prichard came up big by scoring five of Shawnee State’s next seven points to put the Bears back in front by a 57-54 margin, but SSU missed four of its final six attempts in the contest, allowing Richardson to tie the game with a trey and Miroslav Tadic to tack on four free throws that gave Rio Grande a 61-57 lead.
Field goals by Prichard and Onu with 16.2 and 4.8 seconds left kept the pressure on the RedStorm, and after a Blevins miss on the back end of the double bonus, Prichard beat the buzzer with a half-court heave — but missed the said attempt off the right side of the rim.
For the contest, Onu tied his career-high with 24 points and added in six rebounds on 10-of-12 shooting, while Jones added in 14 points and six rebounds to join Onu in double figures.
Donoven Carlisle’s nine points and nine rebounds on 4-of-8 shooting rounded out the Bears’ main scoring and rebounding efforts.
Blevins and Richardson led the RedStorm with 14 points apiece in a balanced effort.
Shawnee State is scheduled to be back in action next Thursday (Dec. 3) and Saturday (Dec. 5) — when the Bears head back into Mid-South Conference play with contests against Cumberland (Tenn.) and Lindsey Wilson (Ky.).
Game times are at 9 p.m. ET/8 p.m. CT (Thursday) and 5 p.m. ET/4 p.m. CT (Saturday).
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