Anthony Banks had 14 points, Johnathan Crawford and C.J. Davis added 13 and No. 2-ranked Shorter beat Faulkner 63-50 in the semifinals of the Southern States Athletic Conference tournament on Friday night at The Forum.
The win propels Shorter (30-2), the No. 1 seed out of the SSAC East Division, into Saturday night's championship game against West No. 3 seed Belhaven, who upset West No. 1 Loyola 72-63 earlier in the day to reach the final. The victory also gives Shorter one of the conference's two automatic berths into the NAIA Division I tournament.
Shorter will play for a title thanks to a gritty defensive effort and a balanced attack that provided just enough points to overcome a stingy Faulkner squad that had won five straight entering the semifinal. Faulkner bounced Shorter out of the opening round in last year's tournament by wearing the Hawks down physically, but this time around, it was Shorter that prevailed behind a lockdown defensive performance.
The Eagles (17-13) shot just 33 percent and went 4-for-15 from 3-point range. Shorter won the battle of the boards 45-30 and forced 22 turnovers by Faulkner. The Hawks forced Faulkner into 1-for-8 shooting and four turnovers during a 13-5 spurt to open the second half capped by an Eric Nix put back that put the Hawks up 38-26 with 11:26 to play.
That run proved to be the knockout punch in a game that was nip-and-tuck for the first 20 minutes. The Eagles closed to within six with 3:59 remaining, but Banks converted a 3-point play, Nix followed with a short jumper and Banks and two-handed slam off an assist from Walter Hill to extend Shorter's lead back to 13 with 2:31 left. The lead stayed in double figures from that point on.
Hill, the SSAC Player of the Year, was held to six points on 2-for-10 shooting, but the All-American got plenty of support from his teammates. Nix also reached double figures with 11 points and recorded three assists to just one turnover in the second half after turning it over six times in the first. Shorter made only 1 of 19 from 3 against an active Faulkner zone, but the Hawks outscored Faulkner 36-22 in the paint and got 26 points off the bench, all from Crawford and Davis.
It was the play of that duo in the first half that allowed Shorter a bit of breathing room. With both teams struggling to score in the half court, Crawford dunked home an offensive rebound off a missed layup by Kenny Leverette to spark a 10-3 burst that left Shorter with a 25-18 edge at the 2:01 mark. Davis made all four of his attempts from the foul line to give Shorter free points at a time when points were at a premium. The Hawks led 25-21 at the break.
Chris Palmore paced Faulkner with 18 points and seven rebounds. Duke Phillips added 10 points for the Eagles, who couldn't pull off a second straight upset after they downed No. 16 Lee by 14 in the quarterfinals.