PORTSMOUTH — On the heels of the program’s longest winning streak in school history, the Shawnee State men’s basketball program earned its highest-ever ranking in the NAIA Men’s Basketball Poll — coming in at No. 7 in the poll that was released by national officials on Wednesday morning.
Shawnee State, which garnered 401 points to gain national top-10 status for the first time in its history, sits as the top-ranked team in the Mid-South Conference with its new billing as well.
Only one team east of the Mississippi River — that being top-ranked Indiana Wesleyan — sits ahead of the Bears in the latest release.
The national ranking continues what is developing into a potential banner year for the men’s program.
Of their eight consecutive victories, seven of the wins have come by eight points or more, with six of the eight triumphs coming by at least 12 or more points — including a 106-86 victory over Campbellsville that serves as SSU’s first-ever game with 100 points or more against an MSC foe.
The Bears also knocked off then-No. 11 Cumberlands (Ky.) and then-No. 6 Georgetown on their way to becoming the highest-ranked team in the MSC.
Their 12-2 record is tied for the best mark of any team through 14 games, and a win over Bethel (Tenn.) would cement the 2020-21 group as having the best overall start to a single season in program history.
In three out of the last four weeks during the span of the winning streak, the program has earned a conference or national award of some type.
E.J. Onu not only won Mid-South Conference Player of the Week honors, but also obtained NAIA National Player of the Week honors following a 25-point, 13-block and 10-rebound effort against Martin Methodist on Dec. 10 — leading to MSC (Dec. 17) and NAIA (Dec. 18) accolades.
James Jones then added in his third MSC Player of the Week honors following a two-game stretch where he averaged 27 points, 4.5 assists and three rebounds on 46-percent shooting, winning the award on Jan. 4.
This past week, DeLano Thomas was awarded with his first NAIA National Coach of the Week award on Jan. 11 — as part of his and his staff’s work during Shawnee State’s best run in program history.
Over the past week, six players averaged at least 8.7 points per game, with five of those six finishing in double figures.
In addition to Onu and Jones, Amier Gilmore averaged 10.3 points and eight rebounds on 50-percent shooting, Miles Thomas posted a 13.3 points-per-game average on 50-percent shooting from the floor and a blistering 69.2-percent mark from three-point range, and Isaac Abergut averaged 12 points and 4.7 rebounds while posting otherworldly statlines — going 14-of-19 from the floor for a fantastic 72.7-percent shooting mark to go along with a 58.3-percent three-point stroke.
Latavious Mitchell’s 8.7 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game for the week not only came on a 56.3-percent shooting mark and a perfect 8-of-8 from the free-throw line, but were accomplished in just over 14 minutes of playing time off the bench.
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