PORTSMOUTH, Ohio – For the first time since the 2000-01 season, the University of Pikeville men’s basketball team can call itself Mid-South Conference Regular-Season Champions after topping Shawnee State (Ohio) 69-56 on Thursday.
With a 24-2 overall record and 14-1 mark in MSC play, no other conference team can catch second-ranked UPIKE in the standings. While Pikeville has won an NAIA National Championship under head coach Kelly Wells in 2011, the conference championship has eluded him, but no more.
Now the sights are set on winning the first MSC Tournament Championship since 2002-03 and continuing on to the NAIA National Tournament to challenge for the nation’s top prize. But first there are three regular-season games left and the chance to put together the best MSC record in league history.
Thursday’s win wasn’t a thing of beauty. UPIKE scored its third lowest total of the season and was sloppy, turning the ball over 16 times with just seven assists. Luckily it outshot SSU 45.8 to 34.5 percent from the field and hit 10 more free throws to enjoy a double-digit lead the majority of the second half.
Shawnee State’s last lead came with over 15 minutes left in the first half at 9-8 on a three by Devon Carter. UPIKE responded with an 11-3 run to go up 23-12 and ended by leading by as many as 19 points before taking a 37-21 lead into halftime.
SSU opened the second half with an 11-2 run to get within seven, but it woke up UPIKE for an 11-3 run of its own and it was never seriously threatened again.
Keala King led all scorers with 19 points and matched the game high with nine rebounds. King was 9-of-12 from the stripe. Bruce Reed chipped in with 18 points, scoring 12 of them in the second half and Elisha Justice added 10 points, five assists, six rebounds, a block and a steal.
Andrew Bendolph and Mark Bryant were the only two Shawnee State players to register double figures with 13 and 12 points, respectively. Andrew Devlin tallied eight points and nine boards. There wasn’t a huge gap on the backboards overall with UPIKE edging SSU 39-34.
Pikeville travels to No. 19 Rio Grande (Ohio) on Saturday for a 4 p.m. ET tipoff.