*Note: Additional coverage and stories from Shawnee State’s National Championship will be available online at portsmouth-dailytimes.com and in Thursday’s print edition of The Daily Times.*
It was a dream season, indeed.
A fairytale, even.
However, this story is no fairytale — it’s reality.
In Tuesday evening’s NAIA National Championship Game, the Shawnee State men’s basketball program capped off a dream season, winning its 27th consecutive game en route to its first-ever NAIA Men’s Basketball National Championship Tuesday evening with a 74-68 victory over Lewis-Clark State (Idaho) Tuesday evening at Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, Mo.
Shawnee State’s men’s basketball program (31-2) became the first team since the famed 1998-1999 SSU Women’s Basketball program to win a national championship, with these Bears sweeping the Mid-South Conference Regular Season, MSC Conference Tournament, and NAIA National Championship hardware along the path. It’s the second group in school history to win a team championship. Seth Farmer’s 2019 Men’s Indoor Track and Field National Championship also joins the group as the national champions at Shawnee State.
SSU, who finished the season at 31-2 overall — the same mark as the 1998-99 group when it won its national championship — led for 38:37 of the game’s 40 minutes in defeating Lewis-Clark State for the national title.
The Bears, who led by as much as 14 points during the affair, had their lead wittled down to three (65-62), but allowed the Warriors to get no closer in claiming their first-ever national championship.
Defense wins championships
In classic fashion, Shawnee State won the affair with its excellent defensive work as a unit. The Bears held Lewis-Clark State (Idaho) to just 34.8 percent shooting and 31.3 percent shooting from three-point range in the six-point win.
To show how good the Bears’ defense was on this day, Shawnee State held Lewis-Clark State (Idaho)’s Trystan Bradley, Hodges Bailey and Travis Yenor to just 6-of-25 shooting and 18 points total between the trio. They averaged 15.9, 13.1 and 10.3 points per game coming into tonight’s affair.
Jones caps off Tournament MVP performance in style
Continuing to ball out as he has all season long, James Jones saved one of his best performances of the season for last in the 74-68 win.
Jones, who notched 12 points and six rebounds at the half, added in 15 points and four more boards off the glass en route to a 27-point, 10-rebound effort.
Beyond his clutch bucket-getting mentality — including a huge three-pointer with 8:18 to go that put the Bears up by a 59-51 margin — Jones was poised from the free throw line, as well. The senior went 7-of-9 from the charity stripe in the game, including a critical 5-of-6 mark over the game’s final 26 seconds to lock up the national championship and bring it home to Portsmouth and Scioto County.
Gilmore huge down stretch
Time after time in the second half, it wasn’t just Jones coming up with big plays — but Amier Gilmore, as well.
With star big man EJ Onu saddled on the bench due to foul trouble, Gilmore played his best game of the NAIA National Tournament in the biggest of moments, scoring 10 of his 14 points in the second half of competition. The junior went 5-of-7 overall from the field and added in six rebounds to boot in the win.
In addition to making a huge impact in Tuesday evening’s victory, Gilmore, along with fellow teammates Latavious Mitchell and Miles Thomas, didn’t lose a single game they appeared in for the Bears as the trio went a perfect 25-0 in their 2020-21 appearances.
Onu caps four-year career with national title
Capping off undoubtedly the greatest four-year career in the history of the Shawnee State men’s basketball program — and one of the greatest four-year careers at Shawnee State regardless of sport — EJ Onu saw out the reclamation process that he and fourth-year head coach DeLano Thomas started all the way to the finish line in the six-point win.
Winners of 14 games their first two seasons together, the pair showcased their incredible leadership skills at all stops throughout the last two seasons, leading Shawnee State to a 52-13 overall record over the 2019-20 and 2020-21 campaigns and capping it off with the NAIA Red Banner to boot.
Onu now holds 1,578 points, 866 rebounds and 529 blocks for his career to post numbers that are in the top-five all-time in each category. He finished just 78 blocks off of the NAIA’s record for blocks in a career while adding never-before-seen defensive highlight reels and numbers that will be remembered for a lifetime.
Along with the above trio, Miles Thomas posted eight huge first-half points and four rebounds to finish with 10 points and six rebounds in all, while Issac Abergut finished with six points, Donoven Carlisle five, and Jakiel Wells four. Latavious Mitchell’s two points were arguably the loudest of the evening, as his putback dunk midway through the first half was a much-needed punctuation for the Bears and rounded out the scoring.
Kobie Johnson, Tre Beard, Shawn Paris, Jr., Markus Geldenhuys, Bailey Davis, Corie Blount, Jr. and Desmond Crosby, Jr. were all integral parts to the success of the 2020-21 Shawnee State unit as players and practice hands, while Thomas, Lindal Yarbrough, Zack Kelly, Jack Trainer, Justin Patrick and Levi Roberts represent the members of the first-ever Shawnee State men’s basketball unit to win a championship in program history.
A national championship parade and a following celebration will be conducted tomorrow evening at 7 p.m. in Portsmouth. Much more information will be coming in the minutes and hours to follow.
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.