A tremendous defensive surge in the second half proved to be the difference Saturday afternoon as the Dalton State College men’s basketball team knocked off nationally ranked Faulkner University.
Trailing by six points, 42-36, with 16:40 left in regulation, the Roadrunners did not allow Faulkner to score a single point over the next 8:40 of game clock. Scoring 15 points during the run to take a 51-42 advantage, the Roadrunners never relinquished the lead again and prevailed 69-67 against the the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics’ No. 17 team.
“We charted 11-straight stops without them scoring a point,” Dalton State head coach Tony Ingle said of that tremendous defensive stand. “We made them miss with some tremendous defensive play. That says a lot when you can do that to a nationally-ranked team. The most important thing about defense is the team aspect. You’ve got to cover for each other. You’ve got to communicate.”
With the defense providing the spark, the Roadrunners, who are playing an independent schedule in their first year back as a program after some three decades of inactivity, won their 12th straight regular-season encounter while improving to 16-1.
Guard Ricky Sears, who averages 17 points per game as Dalton State’s top scorer, responded with the decisive go-ahead basket to put the Roadrunners in front, 43-42, with 13:45 left. He emerged as the game-high scorer with 19 points.
“If I’m open, I’m going to shoot it,” Sears said. “I’m a confident person.”
What did the victory against the national power and the reigning champions of the Southern States Athletic Conference — the league Dalton State will join next year — mean?
“It was a good win,” he said with a shrug. “We know that they’re a fine team, but we are a great team.”
Double-digit scoring assistance came from Anthony Hilliard (14), Erich Allen (13) and Sean Tate (10).
“This win puts a lot of confidence in us,” said Tate, the 5-8 point guard who added a team-high four assists and three steals. “It all starts on the defensive end. We put a lot of pressure on them. We get a lot of baskets off our defense.”
Demetrice Jacobs contributed a team-high nine rebounds for Dalton State.
“They’re very talented,” Faulkner State coach Jim Sanderson said of the Roadrunners. “They have so many guys who can score. They turned up their defense in the second half.”
Sanderson, who has guided the Eagles (9-5) for 24 seasons, claimed a national championship in 2001.
Dalton State limited Faulkner to 36.2 percent shooting from the field (25-of-69). The Eagles’ defensive effort was similar while yielding only 35.5 percent to the Roadrunners (22-of-62).
Jake Mitchell and Stephen Strachan led Faulkner’s scorers with 15 points each. Jamarious Alderson added 12, and Cortez Riley chipped in 11.
Faulkner dominated the rebounding stats by a whopping 16, 53-37. Cyrille Sandjon, a 6-7 senior, was the game’s only double-figure rebounder with 15.
“Their rebounding advantage was not surprising,” Ingle said. “They usually beat everybody by about 12 on the boards.”
Faulkner entered the fray ranked third nationally in free throws (75.7 percent) and in the top 10 in rebounds. The Eagles eclipsed their free throw percentage with 80 percent (12-of-15).
Dalton State, which did not attempt a free throw before intermission, finished at 57.7 percent (15-of-29).
During the first half, the Roadrunners got their first lead at 24-23 with 9:25 left on a layup from Sears. They trailed at halftime, 37-34, despite two 3-pointers each from Preston Earle and Sears.
In the final minute of the game, Dalton State had a seemingly comfortable 67-60 advantage. However, Faulkner State was within two before Allen blocked a shot with 1.4 seconds left.
“We were very fortunate to win,” Ingle said. “I couldn’t be prouder of our team.”
There was little celebrating with the win, for the Roadrunners make a return visit Feb. 13 to Faulkner, which has beaten two Top 25 foes this season.
Dalton resumes action Monday at the trade center against Spring Hill College (Mobile, Ala.). That clash starts at 5:30 p.m. instead of the originally scheduled 7 p.m. to keep from conflicting with the BCS national championship football game between Auburn and Florida State.