By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
BLUEFIELD, Va. —
The late-Jim Valvano was always concerned about playing those ‘State’ schools that aren’t actually states.
Shawnee State would fit into that category.
The Bluefield College men’s basketball team lost by 32 to Shawnee State in Portsmouth, Ohio last month. The Rams were within three in the final minute on Thursday, but dropped a 77-73 decision to the Bears at the Dome Gymnasium.
It was Bluefield’s ninth straight loss. The Rams are 1-11 in 2013, but Richard Morgan’s squad has shown improvement, losing its last three games by 6, 1 and now 4 points.
“You are supposed to play your better basketball in February and March so hopefully that is what we are doing,” Morgan said. “I think it is just our time. We are jelling. I like what we got, I like the guys because they come out and play hard every night.”
Shawnee State (14-9, 10-5), which is tied for first place in the Mid-South Conference and receiving votes in the NAIA national poll, was led by 6-foot-6 sharpshooter Jeremy Bennington, who had 25 points, including sevens 3.
Tyler Morgan added 21 points and a game-high nine rebounds for the Bears, which scorched the nets at a 59.3 percent (16-27) clip in the opening half, taking a 41-34 lead into the break.
Shawnee State, which also received nine points and five assists from Ian Nixson and eight points and seven boards by Nick Gouch, made 10 3s to Bluefield’s eight in the game.
Bluefield (7-15, 2-13) placed four players in double figures, led by Byron Carpenter (21), Kearsten Marion (14 points, six assists), Pierre Walters (13 points, eight rebounds) and Josh Nesbit (10). Eric Swift added nine points, eight assists and three steals.
The Bears took a 7-6 lead on a 3 by Trevor Banks, and held the lead until breakaway dunks by Swift and Nesbit sparked a run that saw the Rams take the lead at 51-50 on a 3 by Marion with 11:29 left in the game.
That was followed by five more lead changes and two ties before Morgan got loose from a double team along the baseline and drove to the basket to put the Bears up to stay with 4:43 to go.
Bluefield was able to get within one, but never any closer. The Bears were 15 for 21 from the free throw line, including 8 for 8 in the final 3:55 to secure the win.
“You can’t fault the effort, but we just make too many mistakes and mistakes will kill you in a game like that,” Morgan said. “When it is tight like that you can’t make mistakes.”
Bluefield, which will host Rio Grande (Ohio) on Saturday, continues to improve after losing three starters since the season began, including two in the current semester.
“We are getting better and they haven’t quit so that is a good thing,” Morgan said. “We are improving.”
Shawnee State 70, Bluefield 52
The Lady Rams were looking up much of the night at the Bears, who were led by 5-foot-10 Alannah Sheets (14 points, six rebounds), 5-11 Alex Pohl (12 points, eight rebounds, two blocks) and 6-foot Schera Sampson, a transfer from Stephen F. Austin, who finished with 11 points and 16 rebounds.
Shawnee State (19-6, 10-5), the preseason favorite in the Mid-South, is currently fourth in the league and ranked 21st among all NAIA teams in America.
“They are tough inside, we knew they were, that is why our game plan was to double them inside,” Bluefield head coach M.J. Baker said. “We knew that was going to be tough for us to guard them.”
Real tough. Sampson had nine points and 10 boards at the break, while the Lady Rams (13-10, 6-9) shot just 21.9 percent (7-32) in the opening half to trail 34-17.
Bluefield clawed within 13 in the second half, but could never make it a game, unlike last month when the Rams lost by seven in Ohio.
Pohl scored all 12 of her points after the break. The Bears had nine players between 5-10 and 6-3, and five played in the game.
“We were down 17 at halftime and we lost by 18 so we were right there the whole second half,” said Baker, whose Rams were outscored by one, 36-35, after the break. “At their place we showed up better, we competed better, but obviously we are still working.
“We are a work in process. It is a good thing it is not the end of the season. We haven’t peaked yet, but shooting 20 percent in the first half and 40 percent in the second half is not going to help you.”
Bluefield, which has lost three straight and seven of its last nine games, was paced by Maryah Mazyck (11 points, seven rebounds. Ashley White (10 points, seven assists), Teqa McNeal (nine points) and Janee Simmons (nine points, eight rebounds, three blocks). Monique Robson added seven points and five boards.
Baker is still searching for what has caused the Rams to struggle after starting the season at 11-3.
“I wish I would know, I know we have been fighting illness, we have been sick and we are getting over it now,” Baker said. “I thought in this game we would have a little more bounce to us, but obviously we came out slow.
“In the second half it was refreshing to know we still have it in us right now even if we are not feeling well, but no excuses, Shawnee State was the better team today.”
Bluefield, which dropped to 8-2 at home this season, will host Rio Grande (Ohio) on Saturday.
“We usually play really well at home, and considering today was our second conference loss at home,” Baker said, “but we have got to get back at it and learn from it and get back at it on Saturday.”
—Contact Brian Woodson