ROME, Ga. - Faulkner head coach Jim Sanderson knew his Eagles would have to play a near perfect game in the Southern States Athletic Conference tournament semifinals to knock off second-ranked Shorter. Through the first half Faulkner held strong, but failed to make a basket in the first eight and a half minutes following the break and the Hawks took control, capturing a 63-50 victory here Friday night at The Forum.
Faulkner came into the game having won nine of its last 10 games, including Thursday night's 68-54 upset of 15th-ranked Lee. A poor-shooting night combined with the inability to keep the athletic Hawks off the boards resulted in a season-ender for the Eagles, who finish at 17-13.
"Shorter is not the second-ranked team in the country by accident; they are really good," Faulkner head coach Jim Sanderson said. "The beat us up on the glass, with most of their points in the first half coming off rebounds. In the second half they started hitting their shots a bit better, and we just couldn't answer."
Shorter led 25-21 at halftime despite missing all 12 of its 3-point attempts. The Hawks had nine offensive rebounds in the opening 20 minutes, resulting in 12 second-chance points. Faulkner got to within three with 18 minutes left on a Decorey Jones free throw, but by the time Chris Palmore scored the Eagles' first basket of the second half at the 11:45 mark Shorter had stretched the lead to 12.
Faulkner did battle to within six points with four minutes left, but the Hawks made 11 straight free throws over a three-minute stretch to hold off any hopes of an Eagle comeback. In his last game in a Faulkner uniform, All-SSAC guard Chris Palmore had 18 points and seven rebounds to pace the Eagles. Fellow senior Adam Okechukwu added 10 points, as did Duke Phillips. Faulkner's third senior, Decorey Jones, chipped in with five points before fouling out.
"Chris Palmore is a very special basketball player and has had a wonderful career," Sanderson said of the three-time all-conference player. "He's one of the greats to come through here. I just wish we could've gotten to the tournament during his career, and we came close a couple times but just came up short. We're going to miss all of our seniors, but I'm excited about getting out there and recruiting and getting after it again next season."
Shorter, who will play Belhaven Saturday night at 6:30 for the tournament championship, won despite making only one of 19 3-point tries. The Hawks came into the game making 40 percent of their shots from behind the arc. Shorter made up for their poor outside shooting by outrebounding Faulkner 45-30, a margin which included 16 offensive rebounds.
Four Hawks scored in double figures, with Anthony Banks leading the way with 14. C.J. Davis and Johnathan Crawford added 13 apiece for Shorter, which also got 11 from Eric Nix. For the game Shorter shot 39 percent from the field, while the Eagles made just 33 percent of its attempts.
"The effort was there, no doubt about that, but we just ran into a really good team tonight," Sanderson said. "But I'll always remember how this team never lost focus on a season that easily could have been lost. We started 0-6 in our league and fought all the way back to 9-9 in the conference. And then the win last night was special. We just didn't have enough to follow it up tonight."
With their matchup zone causing the Hawks trouble, the Eagles built an early 11-4 lead. In the first seven minutes of the game, Shorter had more turnovers than points. A key play that sparked the Hawks came at the 12:26 mark when Anthony Banks scored down low and was fouled. He missed the free throw, but Johnathan Crawford grabbed the rebound and was also fouled while converting the putback. His free throw was good, and the five-point trip lifted Shorter to a 9-0 run and a two-point lead.
The Hawks built the margin to as many as seven in the opening half, using a Harvey basket to push the advantage to 25-18 with 2:03 on the clock. The Eagles' defense tightened, holding Shorter scoreless the rest of the half and a Mitchell 3-pointer brought Faulkner to within four at the break.