PORTSMOUTH — Over the past 32 seasons, the men’s basketball program at Shawnee State has fought for a regular-season conference championship to call its own — but had never won one.
In an academic year unlike any ever seen on many scales however, DeLano Thomas, his staff, and his players persevered.
Having never finished higher than third-place in a regular-season standing prior to the 2020-21 academic year, Thomas — in perhaps the most trying of seasons — has led the SSU men’s basketball program to its greatest height in terms of national ranking.
On Tuesday afternoon, that mark was paired up with a Mid-South Conference championship, as the No. 6-ranked Bears were officially proclaimed the Mid-South Conference regular-season champions.
For Thomas’ group, obtaining the regular-season title was no fluke.
Winners of 14 games by double digits, the Bears have also been huge in the clutch — going 8-1 in games decided by single digits.
In its run to the program’s first-ever conference title of any kind, Shawnee State:
* Swept Pikeville in regular season for third straight year
* Also swept both meetings against Lindsey Wilson, Cumberlands (Ky.), Martin Methodist, Life (Ga.) and Thomas More
* Came back from nine points down to defeat Georgetown at home
* Came back from eight points down to defeat Bethel on the road
* Came back from a five-point deficit with 5:30 to play to defeat Life on the road
Beyond those accomplishments; however, the Bears have also accomplished many more program milestones:
* Have won five Mid-South Conference Player of the Week awards, the most of any men’s basketball program in the conference. James Jones has won four on his own.
* Have matched the program record for wins in a season with 22.
* Have clinched the program record for winning percentage in a season.
* E.J. Onu collected the program’s first NAIA National Player of the Week honor since 2011 — and only the second in school history — with a massive 25-point, 13-block, 10-rebound effort against Martin Methodist. Onu set a school record for blocks in a game, posted a career high (at the time), and notched the conference’s first triple-double since the 2018-19 campaign.
* Thomas, who holds a 71-46 mark for his career as a head coach, won the program’s first-ever NAIA National Coach of the Week honors. In his last 56 contests as the leader of the men’s basketball program, Thomas has led SSU to a 43-13 record.
Through all of these honors, though, nothing has distinguished Shawnee State more than its efficient team play at all levels.
As of Tuesday, four players — including Jones, Onu, Miles Thomas and Amier Gilmore — are averaging in double figures, while Donoven Carlisle, Isaac Abergut, Latavious Mitchell, Kobie Johnson, Shawn Paris Jr. and Jakiel Wells are all averaging between 3.4 to 7.5 points per contest.
A program which has won 18 consecutive games — and counting — while sitting inside the NAIA’s top-10 in nine different categories.
The Bears are ranked second in defensive field-goal percentage (37.7), third in blocks per game (5.4) and total blocks (130), and fourth in offensive rebounding (1,064), but are also ranked 10th in assists (403) and 12th in scoring offense (2,026) — which is a testament to how well-rounded Shawnee State’s unit is in all facets.
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.