MOBILE, Ala. - Trying to secure a berth in next week's Southern States Athletic Conference tournament, Faulkner found itself in a deep hole at halftime against division-leading Mobile. The Eagles clawed all the way back in the second half, however, ruining the Rams' Senior Night with a pulsating 64-58 victory here Thursday at Pharr Gymnasium.
The Eagles (15-12 overall, 8-9 SSAC) punched their ticket to the post-season by battling back from a 15-point deficit, holding the Rams (13-15 overall, 9-8 SSAC) to just five field goals and 17 points in the second half. A 14-2 run to start the final 20 minutes, sparked by senior guard Chris Palmore, brought the Eagles to within 3 with 14:32 left.
Palmore, who had all 16 of his points in the second half, made two free throws to tie it with 5:02 left and Adam Okechukwu's basket with 3:12 left gave the Eagles a two-point lead. Up by 3 with 2:20 left, sophomore Ayo Madimodola made arguably the biggest shot of his Faulkner career, draining a long 3-pointer to push Faulkner's advantage to 61-55.
Mobile could get no closer than four points the rest of the way, as Palmore slammed the door with a pair of free throws in the closing minute. The victory was Faulkner's eighth win in its last 11 SSAC games after starting the conference season with six straight losses, four of which came in the final minute.
"I just can't say enough about these guys and the heart they showed out there tonight," Faulkner head coach Jim Sanderson said. "We didn't play well in the first half, but in the second our zone was really good and we made key shots. Chris Palmore is such a leader on this team, and he knew we had to have him if we were going to come back. And Ayo hit the big shot when he had the opportunity. I keep saying it over and over, but this team is so resilient. I'm very proud to be their coach."
Okechukwu added 12 points and Madamidola 10 for the Eagles, who played much of the second half without starting point guard Jake Mitchell, who strained his ankle midway through the period. Okechukwu's eight rebounds allowed the Eagles to earn a 32-28 advantage on the boards after trailing by four in the category at halftime. In the decisive second half the Eagle shot 58 percent from the field to just 21 percent for the Rams, who made only five of 23 shots.
Antonio Hester and Christian Salinas led Mobile with 12 points apiece. Hester, the Rams' leading scorer at 16 points per game, scored nine of his points in the first five minutes of the game but added just one field goal the rest of the way. Ji Kimbrough finished with 11.
Faulkner, with the best divisional record in the SSAC West, could be anywhere from the second to the fifth seed out of the West when the tournament bracket is announced late Saturday, depending on the results from the final day of league action.
"We're happy we've made the post-season, but we still have some work to do on Saturday to hopefully improve our position," said Sanderson, whose team lost four of its early SSAC games by a total of 10 points.. "Our guys never gave up when we had all those close losses and continued to lay it on the line. Tonight was a prime example of that."
Leading 20-17 with 10:23 left in the half, the Rams raced away on a 9-0 run to build the lead to 12 with 8:32 on the clock. The largest lead in the half for Mobile was 18, with the half coming to a close with the Rams on top 41-26.
The Eagles will honor their three seniors - Okechukwu, Palmore and Decorey Jones - Saturday afternoon on Senior Day against Auburn Montgomery. The ceremony will take place just prior to the game, which tips off at 4.