By Matt Green
FRANKLIN SPRINGS, Ga. – As turned out to be the trend at the NCCAA South Region Tournament, Shorter's Basketball Hawks needed 20 minutes to feel out their opponent on Saturday.
In the regional championship against Southern Wesleyan, another outstanding second half earned the Hawks a title and a second straight trip to national tournament competition.
Sophomore point guard Dedric Ware poured in a game-high 27 points with the help of six 3-pointers and top-seeded Shorter beat the third-seeded Warriors 87-75 to capture the NCCAA South Region title and earn an automatic bid to next week's NCCAA Division I Men's Basketball Championship in Winona Lake, Ind.
The Hawks (18-11) swept through the regional, winning its three games by an average of 14 points. Saturday's final was not as close as the final score suggested, as the Hawks led by as much as 27 in the second period after leading by only seven at the half.
Anthony Banks added 20 points and Kenny Leverette 11 for Shorter, which started the second half on a 9-2 run to build a 14-point lead with 17:10 to go in the game before outscoring Southern Wesleyan 31-18 over the next 12:40 to put the contest away.
Ware sank a trio of 3-pointers during that stretch and Walter Hill, who finished with nine points, capped the spurt with a 15-footer and a 3 on back-to-back possessions to make it 79-52 with 4:30 to play.
All that was left for the Hawks to do from that point was to hoist the South Region Championship banner.
Shorter downed a former Southern States Athletic Conference rival for the crown, but again had to battle through a nip-and-tuck first half to set the stage for a second half explosion.
The Hawks led by as much as nine in the opening frame, but spent much of the half within one or two possessions of the Warriors. Shorter took that nine point lead, 39-30, on a pair of Banks free throws at the 1:04 mark of the period, and went into the halftime locker room up 39-32 after a SWU bucket as time expired.
Southern Wesleyan couldn't build on the little momentum it had heading into the half. Ware was a big reason for that, following up a 13-point first half with 14 second half points on the shoulders of three 3-pointers, two of which came on consecutive possessions and answered a mini run by the Warriors that had drawn SWU to within seven. Ware's two treys turned a seven-point Shorter lead into a 56-42 cushion with 13:30 left.
Shorter will begin play in the NCCAA Division I Men's Basketball Championship on Wednesday, March 13 with an opponent and first round game time to be announced.