Will Barnes, the SSAC Player of the Year, left the battle with some seven minutes remaining in the first half, after suffering a serious cut over his left eye and was rushed to a nearby emergency facility. After treatment, the Lee sharpshooter returned to action and took a final 3-point attempt in Lee's gut-wrenching 67-65 defeat.
Both clubs are known for outstanding defensive play and that showed throughout the contest. Faulkner shot 37 percent from the field and Lee made 36 percent. The Eagles did knock down 6-of-16 3-pointers and were 4-of-8 from behind the arc down the stretch run of the second half. On the other hand, Lee attempted 25 treys and was only able to sink six. Another deciding point came in the rebounding department where Faulkner collected 17 offensive boards and held a commanding 46-34 edge overall.
The Flames led by as much as 10 points in the first half, but the Eagles closed fast and held the upper hand 35-30 at the break. In the second 20 minutes, Lee built up a 12 point lead with 7:42 remaining and then watched as the Eagles finished strong and grabbed a four-point lead with one minute remaining.
Lee got a quick basket by Jamorris Gaines and called a timeout with 41 seconds left. Pressure defense forced a Faulkner turnover and allowed the Flames a couple of opportunities to tie or win the game. The first opportunity failed, but the Eagles knocked the loose ball out of bounds with just over five seconds remaining. Lee coach Tommy Brown ordered a timeout and designed what he hoped was the game-winner.
"Our plan was to set a double pick for Jamorris, but their defender did an excellent job of recognizing the play and we were forced to take the ball back outside," said Brown. With the final two seconds ticking away, Barnes lunched a long 3-pointer that fail short of the mark.
"We have had defensive collapses late in games and that happened again this evening," noted Brown. "I told our team that was going to come back and cost us and it has in a loss to Emmanuel and now Faulkner."
However, the distraught Lee coach put a lot of the blame on himself. "I made some mistakes that I would like to be able to look back and correct," stressed Brown. "I took Duran (Blue) out of the game and that cost us a four-point turn-around, but he was exhausted and I felt I had to get him a short break. I will give our guys a few days off and then we will go back to work in preparation for the national tournament."
With Barnes was being dogged by the fired-up Eagles before he was injured, Gaines took up the scoring slack and teamed with Chase Dunn to carry much of the scoring load. Gaines finished with 22 points and the always hustling Dunn tallied 15. Chad Lee gave his club a lift with eight points and nine rebounds, while big Steve Bennett was held to six points, but he grabbed 10 rebounds.
Cyrille Sandjon paced the Eagles with 17 points and eight rebounds. Nick McHenry came off the bench and helped spark two Eagle comebacks with 14 points and seven boards. Terrance Glass also came off the bench and connected on a pair of key 3-pointers in the final five minutes.
"Faulkner is a very good basketball team and we knew it would be this type of contest," said Brown. "Give our guys credit, they battled their hearts out and there are a lot of sad faces in our locker room now."
The Flames dropped to 29-3 overall and Faulkner improved to 27-5.