By Matt Green
WINONA LAKE, Ind. – Walter Hill has made plenty of big shots during his career. The All-American has been one of several crucial pieces in the rise of Shorter's men's basketball program over the last three years.
Arguably the biggest shot of Hill's career helped propel the Hawks to the pinnacle of college basketball.
Hill scored 13 points, including a 3 as time expired in regulation to send the game to overtime, and Shorter University captured its first men's basketball national title with a 90-87 overtime victory over Oklahoma Christian in the final game of the NCCAA Division I Men's Basketball Championship.
The Hawks (21-11) emerged from the tournament's No. 5 seed to claim the title and capture that elusive national championship that Shorter came so close to winning just a season ago.
"I am so happy for our team, for Shorter, and for Rome," said Hawks' head coach Chad Warner. "This group is so special. We prayed that we would give an effort that would glorify God win or lose and I hope we did that.
"This is just a great moment for Shorter Athletics."
Anthony Banks and Dedric Ware each scored 26 points for the Hawks, who trailed by as much as nine in the second half and had to overcome a six-point deficit with just 1:45 remaining to force overtime.
Shorter trailed 77-74 with 13.7 seconds left when Hill missed a 3 from the top of the key and Ware misfired on a second attempt from long range after an offensive rebound.
Kenny Leverette soared high to control Ware's miss, however, tipping the ball out to Hill, who drilled his second chance from the wing as the buzzer sounded to send the game to an extra session.
"What an incredible play," Warner said of the final seconds. "Kenny got two offensive rebounds to give us the opportunity and Walt made an incredible shot. We were fortunate."
In overtime, Shorter built a six-point lead on the shoulders of Banks, who had 11 of Shorter's 13 points in OT.
Oklahoma Christian (19-12) surged back in the final moments to trim Shorter's lead to 90-87 on an Eric Randall trey with 51.7 seconds left, and, after the Hawks missed two shots from in close on their ensuing possession, Hill made another game saving play, pinning Kendre Talley's layup against the glass to preserve a three-point lead with eight seconds to play.
Shorter missed a pair from the line that could have iced the game, but Devan White's 30-foot heave as time expired bounced off the front of the rim, sealing the win for Shorter.
This game was nothing like Shorter's first two rounds of the tournament, when the Hawks surpassed 100 points.
While Shorter's first two opponents featured high scoring guards, Oklahoma Christian featured 6-10 All-America center Will Reinke, who came into the game averaging 19 points and 10 rebounds. Reinke finished with 20 points and nine boards on 8 of 11 shooting, but fouled out with 1:45 to go as he and Banks sat much of the second half with four fouls.
Banks went to work on the Eagles after Reinke's departure, scoring 14 points in the final 6:45 of the game, including overtime.
"I will be lucky if I ever coach a player like Anthony Banks again," said Warner. "He is the most consistent competitor I have ever coached and he is the best post player I have ever coached."
Leverette nearly recorded a triple double, finishing with 10 points, nine rebounds and seven assists for Shorter, which overcame a 16-for-28 performance from the foul line. Hill made just 5 of 17 shots and only 2 of 10 from beyond the arc, but his second make of the game proved to be the biggest shot of his career, allowing Shorter to seize the win in overtime.
The Hawks never led in the first half as Oklahoma Christian built a 31-24 lead with 3:31 left until halftime behind a 7-2 run capped by a Reinke dunk. The Eagles led by eight at the 2:06 mark, but Shorter closed the half on a 5-0 run sparked by Banks' steal and dunk to go into the locker room down 33-30. Shorter made just 2 of 7 from the foul line in the first period.
Shorter took its first lead of the game, 34-33, on two Banks' free throws 1:42 into the second half.
"We always talk about having to overcome adversity," said Warner. "I think this team epitomized it today and this year.
"I sure hope we can always build on the lessons we can learn from basketball that carry over to our lives."
Hill and Ware, who had seven rebounds and four steals, were named to the NCCAA Division I Men's Basketball Championship All-Tournament Team while Banks was named an NCCAA All-American and the Tournament Most Valuable Player.