TERRE HAUTE, Ind. – Behind a combined 64 points from seniors Levi Buck (Pendleton, Ind.) and Wes McKinney (Batesville, Ind.) and junior Cam Fails (Mason, Ohio), the Hanover men's basketball team won its second straight HCAC Tournament championship, defeating Rose-Hulman on the road Saturday, 80-70.
The Panthers (22-6) have now won five straight HCAC Tournament games and receive the league's automatic bid into the NCAA Division III National Tournament, which begins next weekend. Fails was named HCAC Tournament Most Valuable Player after averaging 25.0 points over the three-game stretch. McKinney added 20.0 points per contest and 17 total rebounds in the tournament run to also earn all-tournament accolades.
In the championship game, Fails tallied a team high 26 points, while McKinney followed closely behind with 21. The duo has now posted 20-plus point scoring efforts together on four occasions this season. Fails also added a season high seven assists, three rebounds and two steals, while McKinney pitched in on the glass with six rebounds.
Buck tied a season high with 17 points on 6-of-10 shooting. The senior did most of his damage from behind the arc, making five of his nine three-point attempts. Junior Nick White (New Albany, Ind.) and freshman Isaac Hibbard (New Albany, Ind.) each added six points to highlight the rest of the Panther scoring. White also led the team with nine rebounds, and fresh off his HCAC Tournament record-breaking seven blocks Friday, he added another rejection Saturday.
Hanover never trailed in the championship game hosted by Rose-Hulman (17-10), as a 7-0 scoring spurt gave them an early double-digit advantage, 15-5, just over five minutes in. The Blue and Red proceeded to make eight of their first 11 shots and a 13-2 run pushed the lead to 21-7 with 13:27 left in the opening period.
The Panthers pushed their first half lead to as many as 17 points, including a 17-point advantage at the break, 46-29. After peaking over 75 percent in the first half, HC finished the opening 20 minutes with a .606 shooting clip. Hanover also forced 11 first half RHIT turnovers, resulting in 13 points.
Buck, just as he did in the first half, opened play in the second stanza with a three-pointer, pushing the Panther advantage to 20 points, 49-29, for what would be the team's largest lead of the night. The senior also scored eight of the first 13 points for HC in the opening half.
Rose-Hulman would not go away in the second half, cutting the HC lead to 11 points on two occasions. With chances to cut it to single digits, Fails denied the Engineers defensively by taking a charge and recording a key deflection in transition. The junior also made a few timely shots down the stretch to fend off a RHIT comeback attempt.
The Engineers would cut the deficit to eight points with four minutes remaining but that would be as close as they would get. Hanover outscored RHIT 8-6 after the final media timeout to secure the championship.
Hanover shot over 50 percent for the eighth straight game, more than likely moving them in to the top five in NCAA Division III for season field goal percentage. Both sides were over 50 percent Saturday with HC holding the advantage at .561.
The Panthers have won back-to-back HCAC regular season and tournament championships for the first time since the 2003-04 and 2004-05 campaigns. Hanover's 48 combined wins since the start of the 2016-17 season is now tied for the fourth most in any successive years in program history.
Hanover will now wait to see what the future will hold for next weekend's games. The NCAA Division III Tournament Selection Show will be held at 12:30 p.m., Monday, Feb. 26. The link above is the NCAA Winter Championships homepage and will have more information on the national tournament.
Contact: Tyler Jester