Panthers' attempt to erase multiple double-digit deficits falls short in NCAA Opening Round

Wes McKinney

ATLANTA – The Hanover men's basketball team rallied from multiple double-digit second half deficits Friday evening before concluding its season with an 85-77 loss to LeTourneau (Texas) in the NCAA Division III National Tournament Opening Round.

Junior Cam Fails (Mason, Ohio) poured in 18 of his game high 30 points in the second half to keep the Panthers close throughout. Fails also swiped three passes, added a trio of assists and made five shots from behind the arc.

In what would end up being the final game of his collegiate career, senior Wes McKinney (Batesville, Ind.) posted 18 points and a team high eight rebounds, while draining four shots from deep. McKinney passed the late-great Joe Brunk Friday evening for sixth on the program's all-time scoring list, finishing with 1,664 points. Classmates Levi Buck (Pendleton, Ind.) and Colin Smith (Cincinnati, Ohio) also started in their final collegiate games, and Parker Buse (Lynnville, Ind.) rounds out a group of four seniors that finished with a 76-36 overall record at Hanover, a .679 winning percentage.

Junior Nick White (New Albany, Ind.) added 10 points and six rebounds. Off the bench, sophomore Logan Ratts (Martinsville, Ind.) and freshman Isaac Hibbard (New Albany, Ind.) combined for all 14 Hanover reserve points.

The Panthers (22-7) jumped out to an early lead, scoring the first eight points to force a quick YellowJacket timeout. The Blue and Red scored the next basket out of the break to lead 10-0 a handful of minutes in.

LeTourneau however, responded with 19 of the next 21 points to take a seven advantage. Hovering a 10-point deficit for the remainder of the opening half, Fails hit back-to-back treys to pull HC within three. The YellowJackets (24-4) though, would take a four-point edge, 46-42, into the intermission.

LETU proceeded to make six of its first seven shots in the second half, extending its lead to 12 points, 61-49. Hanover added a basket before the under-16 media timeout to pull within 10 points. The two points opened up what would be a 12-0 run to tie the contest at 61-all, with 10:44 remaining. McKinney drained a pair of three-pointers during the run and capped the spurt with a deep bomb from the right wing.

Again, LETU extended its lead to double digits, this time tying their largest advantage, 12 points, at 75-63 with 7:20 showing on the clock. Just as they have done over the past two seasons, the Cardiac Cats came clawing back. Another trey from McKinney pulled the Blue and Red within one point, 75-74, as it closed out an 11-0 scoring spurt with 5:04 left to play.

After a few missed opportunities for its first lead since the 16:10 mark of the opening half, HC conceded its second four-point play of the night, falling behind 79-74 with just under three minutes remaining. The Panthers would get as close as five down the stretch before ultimately falling 85-77.

Hanover, the back-to-back HCAC regular season and tournament champions, finish with a combined 48 wins over the past two seasons, which is tied for fourth most in school history over a two-year span. The Panthers appearance in the 2017-18 NCAA Tournament also marked the first time in over a decade they played in a national postseason game in consecutive seasons.

Contact: Tyler Jester