Jones’ 31 leads SSU to NAIA national semis berth

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Over the course of the 2020-21 season, it’s always been a different guy in every game that has stepped up to provide the Shawnee State men’s basketball team with a lift.

On Saturday, it was James Jones’ turn to put together a difference-making output.

The senior’s monstrous 31-point outing, in fact, led Shawnee State to its first national semifinal appearance in program history — and the institution’s first since Hall of Fame head coach Robin Hagen-Smith led the 2010-11 women’s basketball team to the national semis — with a 76-65 victory over the Jamestown (N.D.) Jimmies in the NAIA National Quarterfinals at Kansas City’s Municipal Auditorium.

Held to a lower shooting performance than their normal standard, the Bears — which shot 28-of-66 (42.4-percent) from the field, held a proficient Jamestown offense to 41-percent (25-of-61) — and outrebounded the Jimmies by a plus-seven margin (41-34)

That was despite Jamestown sporting a sizable front line on its own accord — with six players at least 6-6 or taller.

E.J. Onu also enjoyed another terrific defensive output on Saturday afternoon, blocking nine shots while posting a team-high 11 rebounds in the 11-point win.

Jones takes turn

on center stage

As proficient as the day is long, Jones’ game simply proved to be on a different level than that of his peers.

With the Bears trailing by a 7-0 margin to start the game, and by as many as 10 points early in the opening half, Jones was vital in getting Shawnee State’s offense on the right track.

His smooth pull-up game and all-around skill level on full display, Jones scored seven of Shawnee State’s first 10 points to help the Bears close to within 14-10 at the 13:36 mark, then scored four points during a 7-0 SSU spurt — giving the Bears a 22-21 lead with 6:32 to play before Shawnee State entered the half down by a 33-32 margin.

In the second half, Jones went right back to work — as the 6-foot-4 senior scored six of the Bears’ first eight points, leading to an 8-2 run that put Shawnee State ahead by a 40-37 margin with 16:33 to go.

However, Jones’ biggest plays came during the latter portion of the second half.

Over a span of 3:03 (8:20 to 5:17), the Chicago native scored eight consecutive points to help fend off a Jimmies run at every stop, with the Bears ultimately taking control by pushing their lead from five (56-51) to nine points (64-55).

That lead never shrank below four possessions over the remainder of the game.

For the contest, Jones’ 18 second-half points allowed the senior to finish 13-of-23 from the field en route to his 31-point outing.

He added in five rebounds to complete the performance.

Onu continues defensive

domination, intimidation

Not shy about throwing it back in the eyes of the opposition, Onu continued to post ridiculous numbers with his work defensively.

Even though Onu didn’t connect on a single field goal offensively, the 6-foot-11 Cleveland native showcased his heart and grit by finding additional ways to impact the box score.

Onu was the only player to not only grab double-figure rebounding numbers (with 12), but the only one to even post more than seven rips off the glass.

Onu also posted six of his nine blocks in the second half, helping the Bears overcome a one-point halftime deficit — with the center posting four of those six second-half blocks in the final six-and-a-half minutes.

Thomas continues big-play

knack down stretch

The quintessential team player, Miles Thomas, has also been huge this season when Shawnee State has needed him the most.

Needing big buckets, Thomas delivered them at some of the most critical points — knocking down a three-pointer in the middle of Shawnee State’s 7-0 spurt that Jones helped contribute to during the middle of the first half, then two free throws in a 4-0 run over a 58-second span that cut a 33-28 deficit down to 33-32.

In the second half, Thomas’ and-one with 11:33 to go proved to be massive, as his finish through contact ignited an 11-3 push that allowed Shawnee State to begin putting the game on ice — with the Bears rallying from a 48-47 deficit to a 59-51 advantage with eight minutes remaining.

Mitchell, Carlisle

valuable weapons off bench

As they have proven to be all year long, Donoven Carlisle and Latavious Mitchell were each important cogs in Shawnee State’s machine.

In Saturday’s national quarterfinal win, the pair combined for 14 points and nine rebounds — continuing cementing their impact on a unit that has now won 25 straight.

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Amier Gilmore (seven rebounds, four points) and Issac Abergut, Jakiel Wells and Kobie Johnson — who combined for 12 points — all contributed heavy minutes and effort in the victory.

With the win, Shawnee State (29-2) was set to face St. Francis, Ind. (27-8) on Monday evening at 7 p.m. (EDT) in Kansas City in the NAIA National Semifinals.

The winner advances to Tuesday night’s NAIA National Championship Game, which will begin at 8 p.m. (EDT)

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