The Hawks have come to life in the second half of each of their first two games in the NCCAA South Region Tournament in Franklin Springs — and now they are one win away from a championship.
Dedric Ware scored all of his team-high 18 points in the second half on Friday as top-seeded Shorter downed fourth-seeded Pensacola Christian 82-73 in the tournament’s semifinals.
Walter Hill added 16 points for Shorter.
With the win, the Hawks (17-11) advanced to today’s South Region championship game at 3 p.m.
They will face No. 3 seeded Southern Wesleyan for the title.
The winner of today’s game earns an automatic bid to the NCCAA Division I Basketball Championship.
A win today would propel Shorter to its second straight national tournament appearance after the Hawks advanced all the way to the NAIA Fab Four during last year’s record-setting campaign.
“Tournament games are tough, that’s the nature of tournament play,” said Warner. “We got into some foul trouble in the first half, but I was pleased with how we responded early in the second half.
“I felt that our guys did some things that good teams do.”
Hill scored 13 of his 16 points in the first half and also snared 11 rebounds, Anthony Banks recorded a double-double with 11 points and 11 boards and Marquise King added 12 points for Shorter, which lost its five-point halftime lead within the first minute of the second half before going on a 30-10 surge over the next 12 minutes to take command.
The spurt was powered by Ware, who went on an individual 6-0 run midway through the second period to help Shorter match its largest lead of the first half of 13 points, 58-45, with under 11 minutes to go.
A Ware jumper with seven minutes left made it 65-49 before Brandon Pullman intercepted a Pensacola pass and converted a dunk on the other end to hand Shorter its largest lead of the game, 68-49, with 6:10 remaining.
The Hawks coasted from there.
“Dede Ware is a really good basketball player,” Warner said of his point guard. “If he continues to grow and mature, he is going to be really special.
“But I thought our entire team put forth great effort today. I was impressed with Walter on the glass and really impressed with the effort of Kenny, Pullman, Brandon Wright and all the guys.”
Shorter saw another big first half lead evaporate one day after blowing a 12-point lead in the opening 20 minutes to Bob Jones.
The Hawks jumped out to an early 13-point lead on the Eagles (17-13), but watched as Pensacola chipped away by getting to the free throw line. The Eagles made 12 of 14 from the stripe in the first half as five Hawks went to the bench with two fouls in the frame.
Pensacola got as close as one in the first half before Shorter closed the half on an 8-3 run to go into the halftime locker room up 38-33.
The Eagles scored six straight to open the second half to take a 39-38 lead, but a Wright 3 put Shorter up to stay as the Hawks turned up the defensive pressure and rode the hot shooting of Ware to a comfortable victory.
Mike Goetsch scored 13 of his game-high 19 points in the second half to lead the Eagles. Jon Andrews added 17 points for PCC, which saw a seven-game winning streak come to an end.
Pullman was the fourth Shorter player to reach double figures, netting 11 points.