Strong shooting sends Panthers to HCAC Tournament Semifinals

Wes McKinney

HANOVER, Ind. – Behind a 71 percent shooting effort in the first half and a combined 52 points from junior Cam Fails (Mason, Ohio) and senior Wes McKinney (Batesville, Ind.), the Hanover men's basketball team defeated Bluffton in the opening round of the HCAC Tournament Tuesday evening, at home, 88-78.

With the win, the Panthers (20-6) have now won three straight HCAC Tournament games and advance to 2017-18's semifinal round at Rose-Hulman, where they will take on the second-seeded Lions of Mt. St. Joseph. Hanover's win also marks the first time in over 10 years the squad has posted back-to-back 20-win seasons.

Fails tallied his second 30-point game in four outings, falling two shy of a career-high 32 points. The junior made 12-of-17 shots, including a pair from long range. McKinney added 22 points, while posting a team high three makes from 3-point range. The duo combined for nine rebounds as well.

Adding double-digit scoring efforts in the starting lineup were senior Levi Buck (Pendleton, Ind.) and junior Nick White (New Albany, Ind.), who pitched in with 14 and 10 points, respectively. Senior Colin Smith (Cincinnati, Ohio) added six points and a team high eight rebounds. Hanover's five starters combined for 82 of the team's 88 points, accumulating 93.2 percent of the scoring.

Hanover and Bluffton (11-15) both got off to fast starts offensively, with each side shooting over 60 percent and combining for 26 points over the opening four-plus minutes of play. The Panthers made 10 of their first 13 shots in the game to take a 24-17 advantage at the under-12-minute media timeout.

The Beavers were able to close the gap to three points, 35-32, but five quick points from Fails gave HC a 40-32 edge with less than six minutes remaining in the first half. McKinney tallied seven of Hanover's final nine points of the first half and the Panthers led 52-41 at the break. The duo of Fails and McKinney combined for 33 first half points.

The opening 20 minutes of play saw Hanover shoot 71 percent from the field, en route to its highest scoring first half since the first game of the season. The Blue and Red made 4-of-8 tries from deep in the opening half, while also going 4-for-5 at the charity stripe.

After scoring seven of the last nine points in the first half, McKinney came out with five of the first nine in the second stanza, which highlighted a 17-5 run over the first four minutes out of the break. The scoring spurt, which saw HC's overall field goal percentage sky to as high as 75.6 percent, put them in front 69-46, tying their largest lead of the contest.

A jumper and three-pointer from McKinney later in the half gave the Panthers two more 23-point advantages, with the latest coming at the nine-minute mark, 80-57. Bluffton rallied to score the final 10 points of the game, but HC held on for its seventh straight win over the Beavers.

Overall, Hanover finished with a .632 shooting clip, making 36-of-57 field goals. Bluffton shot over 50 percent in the first half, but a stifling Panther defense lowered the Beavers' end-game total to .469.

The Blue and Red, who are still in the hunt for their second straight HCAC Tournament championship, will face Mt. St. Joseph at 4:00 p.m., Friday, Feb. 23. The winner will face No. 1 Rose-Hulman or No. 5 Anderson in the championship game Saturday, Feb. 24.

Contact: Tyler Jester