PORTSMOUTH — For the third time in their last four games, the No. 6-ranked Shawnee State Bears hit the century mark in points — leading by as many as 18 with 3:15 to play in Thursday’s 101-90 win over visiting University of Pikeville.
The result was far from a new one as the Bears, arguably in the midst of their best season in program history, won their program-best 16th-straight contest — improving their mark to 20-2 and increasing their stranglehold atop the Mid-South Conference standings.
In total, SSU shot 38-of-62 from the field for a remarkable 61.3-percent field-goal percentage.
Both teams managed to make over half their field goals however, as UPike connected on 53.8-percent of its 65 attempted shots.
The host Bears recorded 27 assists on their 38 made field goals in the win, a mainstay of their active ball movement and a key statistic in head coach Delano Thomas’ eyes.
“The offensive side, I think that comes easy for this group. We have a lot of talented guys — everybody can score the ball, everybody is unselfish and moves the ball,” Thomas said. “I thought today we made shots. We got to our spots, moved the ball the way we’re supposed to move it.”
Both Shawnee State and UPike made over 10 three-pointers — SSU connecting on 12-of-24, while the visitors had 11 makes on 24 tries.
Senior Miles Thomas connected on a game-high four makes in six attempts as part of his 21-point effort in his reserve role, just behind senior E.J Onu’s game-high 23 points.
Onu still managed 23 points on 12 shot attempts despite playing just over 20 minutes (20:56) over the course of the game due to foul trouble in the early second half when he picked up his fourth foul.
In that time frame, when Onu was off the court, UPike cut SSU’s lead to as few as two at 66-64, but a quick response by the Bears extended their lead back out to double digits.
“In those moments, when you’ve got your top guy leave like that due to foul trouble — he changes the game for us on both ends. To see guys like Latavious (Mitchell) and Donovan (Carlisle), Amier (Gilmore) and Miles (Thomas) really stepping up, it’s great to see that. We have the depth to do it. We don’ t want to be in those moments where we’re challenged, but we were today and it was good to see the way we fought.”
Starters James Jones and Amier Gilmore each reached double figures scoring in the win, adding 18 and 17 points respectively.
A trio of Pikeville players — Jamir Simpson, Korbin Spencer and Malcom Green — managed to score 20 points each to lead their team in scoring.
SSU did outrebound the Bears by a 37-22 margin, as there were just five more rebounds amongst the two teams than missed shots in Thursday’s offensive explosion.
“Ideally, our identity is our defense, rebounding, and being unselfish on offense,” Thomas said. “I didn’t think today we defended the way we’re capable of defending. Yes, Pikeville made shots — they did a good job of being ready for that moment. And we can rebound at a higher level than that.”
As of Thursday’s win, the Bears now hold at least a four-game lead on the teams fighting for the top spot in the MSC race — with just six games left in the regular season.
If SSU holds to form and continues its winning streak which has now spanned more than two months, it’s possible that by the end of next Thursday’s game versus Freed-Hardeman inside Waller Gymnasium, the Bears will have at least clinched a share of the program’s first-ever conference championship.
Thomas spoke following the game about the goal and the possibility of achieving it in the next week.
“It’s something we set our goals on early in the preseason, spring and summer. It’s something that hasn’t been accomplished before, to put ourselves in that position right now is great,” Thomas said. “Of course we’re going to take it one game at a time, we’re not looking ahead because you can’t do that in this conference — you’ve got to be ready for every game.”
SSU has two ranked games remaining as part of its six-game regular-season slate which is set to conclude on Feb. 20 — both road trips to face No. 20-ranked Thomas More and No. 17-ranked Georgetown.
The Bears will pursue win No. 17 in a row on Saturday at Cumberlands (Ky.) — a place where Thomas will seek his first win as SSU’s coach.
“We’re playing good basketball right now, but we want to be playing great basketball,” Thomas said. “That side it’s just coming together a little bit more, working on the details, go out and execute and continue to stay focused.”
* * *
Pikeville 48 42 — 90
Shawnee State 57 44 — 101
PIKEVILLE 90 (9-10)
Jacob Brown 4 0-0 9, Jamir Simpson 9 1-3 20, Korbin Spencer 8 0-0 20, Malcom Green 6 8-12 20, Taevon Horton 1 0-0 3, Darius Love 4 0-0 11, Christian Sweazie 3 0-0 7, Kenyon Stone 0 0-0 0, Jordan Perry 0 0-0 0; TOTALS 35 9-15 90; Three-point field goals: 11 (Korbin Spencer 4, Darius Love 3, Jacob Brown, Jamir Simpson, Taevon Horton and Christian Sweazie 1 apiece)
SHAWNEE STATE 101 (20-2)
Amier Gilmore 8 1-1 17, James Jones 5 6-7 18, E.J. Onu 9 2-3 23, Jakiel Wells 1 0-0 2, Issac Abergut 1 0-0 3, Kobie Johnson 2 0-0 6, Tre Beard 0 0-0 0, Shawn Paris Jr. 1 0-0 2, Miles Thomas 8 1-1 21, Latavious Mitchell 1 3-6 5, Donovan Carlisle 2 0-0 4; TOTALS 38 13-18 101; Three-point field goals: 12 (Miles Thomas 4, E.J. Onu 3, James Jones and Kobie Johnson 2 apiece, Isaac Abergut 1)
Reach Jacob Smith at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @JacobSmithPDT © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved