Hawks blitz Belhaven for first SSAC Tournament title
By Matt Green
ROME – Tournament Most Valuable Player Anthony Banks went for a double-double of 19 points and 12 rebounds to lead Shorter University to an 89-71 victory over Belhaven University in the final game of the 2012 Fuddruckers Southern States Athletic Conference Men's Basketball Championship on Saturday night at The Forum in Rome, Ga.
The win propels Shorter (31-2), the No. 2 ranked team in NAIA and the East Division's top seed for the tournament, into the NAIA Division I Men's Basketball National Championship with its first conference championship in hand. Belhaven (16-16), the No. 3 seed out of the West Division, also received an automatic bid to Kansas City by virtue of reaching the championship game.
The Hawks dominated from the opening tip, building a 52-28 halftime lead behind 61 percent shooting and a suffocating defense that forced 11 first half turnovers from Belhaven. Three other Hawks joined Banks in double figures, with SSAC Player of the Year Walter Hill totaling 19 points and seven rebounds, C.J. Davis adding 17 with the help of five 3-pointers and Kenny Leverette chipping in with 12 points. Eric Nix added seven points and seven assists for Shorter.
Daryl Arnold scored a game-high 20 points and pulled down seven boards for the Blazers, but Belhaven simply couldn't recover from an impressive offensive flurry in the first half from the Hawks.
Shorter scored the first 10 points of the game and led by as much as 25 in the frame. Once Hill scored on a short jumper in the lane off an assist from Davis to put the Hawks up 24-13 with 11:48 until halftime, Belhaven never got back within single digits. Shorter closed the first half on an 11-3 run capped by a 3-pointer from Nix at the 1:07 mark to take a 24-point lead into the break.
Shorter's lead ballooned to 26 on another Hill bucket with 11:58 to go in the game and again on back-to-back transition dunks from Hill and Johnathan Crawford with 3:42 to play. Shorter backed up a hot shooting first half by converting on 52 percent in the second half to keep Belhaven at a distance.
Belhaven also had four players reach double figures. Chris Coefield had 15 points, Woodie Howard chipped in with 13 and Brittion Smith finished with 11.
The win continues a year of firsts for the Hawks. Shorter won the SSAC East Division regular season title for the first time ever and continues to add to its single season wins record. Hill's Player of the Year honor is the first for the program and head coach Chad Warner picked up the SSAC Coach of the Year award to give the Hawks their first sweep of the league's two major awards.
Warner, in his fifth season at Shorter, brought a championship back to his hometown of Rome by guiding the Hawks to an impressive run through the tournament, one that included an 85-64 win over Mobile in the quarterfinals and a 63-50 victory over Faulkner in the semifinals. Shorter's average margin of victory in its three tournament wins was 17 points.
Joining Banks on the All-Tournament roster were Corey Gray from Loyola, Coefield and Howard from Belhaven and Davis and Hill from Shorter.
The NAIA Division I Men's Basketball National Championship commences on March 14-20 in Kansas City, Mo.