T.J. Pugh

Shelby's T.J. Pugh drives to the basket during last week's Division II district championship game against Norwalk at Ashland's Arrow Arena.

SHELBY — Nathon Loney couldn’t help but peek ahead, even as his Shelby team basked in the afterglow of the program’s first district title since 1999, 

By the time the Whippets put the finishing touches on last Saturday’s 64-44 win over Norwalk in the Ashland district final, the Whippets' coach already knew what was waiting in the Sweet 16.

Shelby (20-3) will take on northwest Ohio heavyweight Lima Shawnee (23-1) in the late game of a Division II regional semifinal doubleheader Thursday at 8 p.m. at the Elida Fieldhouse.

Shawnee’s list of accomplishments over the past two-plus seasons is the stuff of nightmares for opposing coaches. Shawnee was 24-3 and reached the regional championship game in 2019 before falling to eventual state runner-up Columbus South.

Last year, Shawnee won a Division II poll championship and was awaiting a regional semifinal date with Upper Sandusky when the season was shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic. Shawnee finished 25-0.

This season, Shawnee won its first 15 games before suffering its only loss, 63-56, at Division I district finalist Findlay. The loss snapped Shawnee’s 40-game winning streak and its 44-game regular season winning streak.

“Shawnee is Shawnee. Everybody knows about them,” Loney said. “They’re very good, they’re very disciplined, big, strong, physical.

“We have to play well. If we don’t go there and play well, we’ll get beat by 25. That’s just the facts of it.”

Shawnee is led by 6-foot-3 senior combo guard George Mangas. The reigning Division II Player of the Year and a Mr. Basketball candidate, Mangas averaged 32.1 points a game during the regular season.

He scored a Shawnee single-game record 57 points in a 96-78 win over Division II powerhouse Trotwood-Madison at the Ottawa-Glandorf Winter Classic on Feb. 6.

“We know they’ve got great players like George Mangas,” said Shelby guard Cody Lantz, who scored 16 points in the win over Norwalk and 19 in the district semifinal victory over Huron. “We’re going to have to keep control of him and I think we can do that if we play our style of defense.”

As good as he is, Mangas is hardly a one-man show. Senior Tyson Elwer is a rugged 6-foot-5 power forward who will play college basketball at St. Francis and. Elwer joined Mangas on the All-Western Buckeye League first team, while Brady Wheeler was a second team selection and Jarin Bertke was a third-teamer.

Shelby counters with 6-foot-5 combo guard T.J. Pugh. The senior led the Mid-Ohio Athletic Conference in scoring, rebounding, assists and steals and was second in blocked shots. He averaged 25.6 points, 7.7 rebounds, 6.1 assists, 3.1 steals and 1.1 blocks a game.

“These next few practices we’re going to be focused on us and playing our game,” Pugh said after the district championship game. “If we do what we do best, I think we have a chance at beating anybody in the state.”

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I have covered high school sports in Richland County since 2000. Email him at curt@richlandsource.com or follow him on Twitter: Follow @curtjconrad on twitter.

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