In just their third year in the Mid-South Conference, the Shawnee State Bears women’s basketball team have learned that no game is a gimmie.
Thursday evening wasn’t any different.
Playing in front of their home crowd for the first time since the season began three weeks ago, the trio of Alex Pohl, Alannah Sheets and Schera Sampson helped the second-ranked Bears (6-0, 1-0) defeat the 18th-ranked University of the Cumberlands (4-1, 0-1), 61-55.
“It was great to be home, the crowd was great,” Shawnee State coach Robin Hagen-Smith said.
The trio accounted for 80 percent of the Bears offense, totaling 49 total points, 17 rebounds and six assists for the game, keeping Shawnee State undefeated on the year.
Pohl scored six-straight points after trailing 4-2 early in the first half to give the Bears an 8-4 advantage. She also pulled down two rebounds, picked up a steal and went 7-of-7 from the free throw line in only 12 minutes of first half action.
However, over the next 5:44 of play, the Patriots went on a 12-4 scoring run to quickly respond to the strong start by the hosts.
Four different Cumberland players scored in that stretch, highlighted by a deep 3-pointer from Jessica Upchurch to give the Patriots their first lead since the game was tied at 4-4 with 17:51 left in the half at 14-12.
Upchurch, who scored 12 of Cumberlands’ 33 points in the first half, also had two rebounds and two assists.
Both teams exchanged baskets midway through the half as Pohl continued her brilliance in the low post. With teams tied at 16-16 at the 10:19 mark, Pohl again scored a layup in the paint giving the Bears an 18-16 lead.
Patriots starting forward Dace Bicane matched Pohl, who finished the half with 10 points and three rebounds for the visitors, scoring on the next possession to tie the game once again.
With the latest tie between the two teams coming at a media timeout all knotted at 23-23, Cumberlands went on a 10-4 scoring run.
Defensively, SSU held Cumberlands scoreless for the remainder of the half, giving the opportunity for the Beats to cut into the lead. Alannah Sheets stole the ball and took off to the other end of the floor finding a cutting Pohl with three seconds left.
The basket cut into the Patriots lead to 33-29 at the half.
“It was a big uplifting moment there, for (Sheets) and the team,” Hagen-Smith said. “(We) showed some positive emotion, just got us going and set the tone.”
Momentum carried over into the second half for Shawnee State as the Bears trailed by four. They quickly got started as Sheets hit a 3-pointer in the corner. On the next possession, guard Abby Feuchter stole the ball and finished an and-one layup, giving Shawnee State a 36-33 lead with 17:34 left.
“We have a young point guard and she has played really well in the last three or four games,” Hagen-Smith said.
The assault continued as Sheets and Sampson hit back-to-back jumpers on the next two possessions, all leading to an 11-1 run in the first 4:02 of the second half.
“I thought it was a great start and it was what we needed,” Hagen-Smith said.
Leading throughout the second half, the Bears played excellent defense, holding the Patriots to 21 percent shooting in the second half as SSU continued to switch back-and-forth from man-to-man to zone defenses.
“Defensively, we played hard and they have some good shooters we needed to show more patience,” Hagen-Smith said.
Sampson, who had only four points in the first half, came on strong when it mattered, scoring nine in the second half. She finished with 13 points, seven rebounds and seven blocks.
Sheets, who also finished with 13 points, had nine in the second half herself, made four free throws down the stretch to help the Bears stay in front of Cumberlands by six.
“She is an All-American, is very unselfish, has a great attitude and she is a leader,” Hagen-Smith said. “I have a lot of confidence in Alannah.”
Bicane however made a 3-pointer on the next possession, again cutting the lead in half to 53-50 with 3:54 remaining in the game.
Pohl, who finished the game with an impressive 8-of-9 shooting performance, seemed to have an answer for the Patriots all night. Pohl scored on back-to-back possessions for the Bears extending their lead back to seven with 2:35 left.
With 1:52 left in the game, Sampson had a key tip-in to give the Bears a 59-50 advantage, the Cumberlands did not stop fighting.
“Schera had a couple big tip-ins tonight that hit just at the right time,” Hagen-Smith said.
Upchurch hit a 3-pointer and then grabbed a steal from Feuchter turning that into a quick layup with 57 seconds left in the game, cutting the Shawnee State lead to 59-55.
However, two free throws by Sheets iced the game for the Bears.
“We’ll take the win and try to improve upon it,” Hagen-Smith said.
Diane Abbady came off the bench for SSU and finished with a team-high eight rebounds and also added six points.
The Bears will play their second home game of the 2012-13 season Saturday against Cumberland University.
U. Cumberlands 33 18 — 55
Shawnee State 29 32 — 61
U. Cumberlands— Upchurch 8-2-24, Rodriguez 2-1-5, Bicane 6-4-17, Alexander 1-1-3, Moss 0-1-1, Herman 1-0-2, Mullins 2-0-2, Totals 20-9-55.
Shawnee State— Feuchter 1-1-3, Sampson 5-3-13, Sheets 3-6-13, Pohl 8-7-23, Nagle 1-1-3, Abbady 3-0-6, Totals 21-17-61.
3-Point Goals — U. Cumberlands 7 (Upchurch 6, Bicane); Shawnee State 2 (Sheets, Nagle).