McKENZIE, Tenn. — Over the course of the past three weeks, the No. 7-ranked Shawnee State men’s basketball program has been on a truly historic tear.
With a program-record eight straight victories, a 12-2 record and a program-best No. 7 national ranking, the Bears headed into another crucial Mid-South Conference contest against Bethel (Tenn.) on Thursday evening.
A true test of a team’s character, and how a program has evolved, however, isn’t when the game is comfortable.
It’s when adversity hits — and when a team is punched in the mouth.
Down throughout much of the game and playing short-handed at the point guard position, the Bears had opportunities to fold up camp against the Wildcats, but never did.
Instead, Shawnee State — down 76-68 with under six-and-a-half minutes to play — went on a game-ending 20-6 run over the contest’s final 6:15, and collected an 88-82 victory over Bethel at Crisp Arena in McKenzie, Tenn.
The victory, Shawnee State’s ninth consecutive, proved to be another showcase of toughness and strong halftime adjustments by the Bears.
The NAIA’s No. 7-ranked team, after allowing Bethel to shoot 47.4-percent in the opening half, held the Wildcats to a scant 25.6-percent mark over the final 20 minutes — as Bethel went just 10-of-39 from the field.
Additionally, the Bears (13-2, 9-1 MSC) posted a 41-38 rebounding advantage over Bethel (6-7, 1-7 MSC) — and used an outstanding 28-of-34 mark from the free-throw line (82.4-percent) to seal the deal in a big win.
For most players, it’s difficult — if it’s ever done — to put up a 25-point, nine-rebound, eight-assist statline.
However, for James Jones, that line is becoming commonplace.
With his shot not falling in the opening half, Jones found other ways to get involved.
His seven rebounds and five assists by the halftime break were team-highs.
In the second half, however, Jones found his stroke.
Helped by a strong output at the free-throw line, Jones fired in 22 of his 25 points in the second half to will Shawnee State to victory.
Jones picked up a technical foul with 6:31 remaining, but the senior’s ‘T’ was when the Bears’ monster run began — as they went on their game-winning 20-6 spurt following that.
Jones scored eight points during the run, including each of his four free-throw attempts while going a fantastic 13-of-14 from line.
The senior swingman only continues to build a resume that looks stronger with each passing day, notching his eighth game of 20 or more points in the process.
Jones is now averaging 20.7 points, 5.6 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game through 15 contests.
He earned his eight assists on Thursday while turning the ball over just three times, posting a strong 2.66-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Onu, Gilmore energy
Alongside Jones, E.J. Onu and Amier Gilmore continued to play well off of each other.
Onu, who scored all 12 of his points in the opening half, overcame foul trouble throughout the evening to make another major impact defensively.
The senior, all while playing with four fouls, notched two big-time blocks over the game’s final 3:37 to keep the late-game momentum on Shawnee State’s side.
Onu ultimately posted 12 points, five blocks and five rebounds on 4-of-8 shooting from the floor and 2-of-5 shooting from beyond the arc.
As for Gilmore, the junior’s work on the glass continued to shine through.
Gilmore was not only consistent offensively — scoring six points in both halves — but also had four offensive rebounds en route to a 12-point, six-rebound line.
The Eastpointe, Mich. native went 5-of-8 from the floor.
Carlisle shows off
With an obvious gift to score, Donoven Carlisle did that and then some against Bethel’s frontline.
Coming off the bench for SSU, Carlisle’s efforts were game-deciding.
The senior from Indianapolis, Ind. scored six points over a span of 1:56 to help SSU go on a 10-0 run that gave the Bears their first lead since the 15:13 mark of the second half.
His basket with 4:35 remaining tied the score at 76 apiece.
Carlisle ultimately finished with 12 points and six rebounds of his own, all while going 4-of-6 from the field and 3-of-4 from the free-throw line.
Balance again key
Following the four double-figure scorers, Isaac Abergut and Miles Thomas were again critical in the outcome.
Abergut and Thomas both notched eight points and four rebounds, with Thomas grabbing the game-sealing rebound and knocking in two clutch free throws with 29 seconds to play.
Kamron Rose (20 points) and Chandler Clements (16 points) led the Wildcats.
Shawnee State will turn around after one day of rest to play another pivotal Mid-South Conference matchup on Saturday against Freed-Hardeman (9-3, 4-2 MSC).
Game time is set for 5 p.m. ET/4 p.m. CT.
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.