PORTSMOUTH, Ohio -- Cumberland's men came back after being down 14 with 9:45 left in the second half to win in overtime 77-74 in their first Mid-South Conference game of the season on the road versus Shawnee State on Thursday night.
The victory marked the first five-game win streak since the beginning of the 2013-14 season.
The Phoenix (9-3, 1-0 MSC) came out in the first half and struggled to get things rolling, shooting just 36.7 percent from the field, but continued to battle all night against a very tough, long Shawnee State team. The Phoenix overcame their early struggles with strong efforts from guys off the bench who stepped in and made big plays down the stretch to force overtime and then come out on top.
Shawnee State made its presence known from the opening tip with its length, anchored by 6-11 forward EJ Onu who posted eight blocks on the game. The Bears outshot the Phoenix by shooting 25-of-56 from the field, but committed more errors, turning over the ball 19 times to Cumberland's 11.
Cumberland had four players reach double digits in the match. Jalen Duke continued his hot shooting with 19 points on 7-of-11 shots, despite Shawnee State trying to smother him all game. Brandon Levier received the start at point guard and finished with 15 points, including a big layup down the stretch, and went 7-of-7 from the line, all in overtime. Asher Blum came off the bench for 15 points and DeMari Davis finished with 10.
Kyree Elder for Shawnee State posted 26 points and six rebounds. Elder had the green light all night and was able to create his own space on the floor to get a good look, but Cumberland freshman James Nicholas came in off the bench late in the game and was able to check Elder and slow him down until the final seconds of the match where he fired three 3-pointers and hit them all. Onu finished with 11 points, eight blocks and six boards. Guard Tim Biakapia registered 13 points.
Cumberland started the game ice cold, not able to connect on anything until the fifth minute of the match. Shawnee State jumped out to an early 9-1 lead, but the Phoenix fought back to tie the game at 9-9 with 11 minutes left in the first half. Davis, Heath Starkey, Aaron Ridley and Blum each posted two points over the run. Both Elder and Nicholas hit threes for both teams and the offense sputtered for both the Bears and the Phoenix at 14-14 for a few minutes. Shawnee State rallied to get up by four, but Blum checked in and hit two big shots to tie it at 22-22 with 4:39 left in the half. Duke hit a big three to give Cumberland a 26-24 lead, the Phoenix's last until late in the ballgame. SSU hit a three before the half and the teams went into halftime with the Bears up 31-28.
Shawnee State opened the second half with a quick 7-0 run, but Cumberland all night refused to let the lead become insurmountable, firing back with six straight points from Duke, Blum and Ridley, respectively. Shawnee State continued to go on a 14-3 run in the next three minutes of game to go up 52-39 with 9:59 minutes left.
Once again the cardiac Phoenix would not go away. Levier started a big Cumberland run with a drive and a contested layup for the Phoenix followed by a couple of Nicholas free throws and another Levier two-pointer. Duke went down on the next possession and hit a big three to make it a five-point game with five to play. The Bears regrouped and were able to plug a couple buckets in to extend it to a seven point lead with exactly three minutes left, but Cumberland simply its their way back into the ball game.
Coming off a timeout, Nicholas hit a three from the top of the key and on the next possession Duke put up a 15-foot jumper that was off target. Levier was there to gather the rebound and pass it out to Davis on the right wing. Davis hit a bank-shot three as the shot clock was winding down. A couple of possessions later, Levier was forced to drive after an errant Phoenix shot and hit an acrobatic left handed layup for Cumberland's first lead since 26-24 late in the first half. Elder was fouled with 21 seconds to go and went 1-for-2 from the line to tie the game. Cumberland drew up a play for the final shot and Blum had a good look for three, but the ball went all the way around the rim before finally falling out and sending the game to overtime.
Shawnee State won the opening tip of overtime and Desmond Crosby attempted a three, but Levier fouled him on his way up. Crosby went 0-of-3 from the line and open the door for Cumberland. Duke went down and made a bucket and Blum got a second chance at the same exact three-point attempt he took to win the game and buried this one to give CU a five-point advantage. Levier took seven free throw attempts in overtime and hit every single one of them to seal the deal for Cumberland.
The Phoenix continue their road trip today to take on No. 5 University of Pikeville at 3 p.m. CDT in eastern Kentucky.