Men's basketball enters final week of regular season with championship aspirations

Isaac Hibbard

HANOVER, Ind. – The Hanover College men's basketball team enters the final week of the regular season with the hopes of capturing its third consecutive Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference championship.

SETTING THE SCENE: The Panthers close out the regular season with a pair of road trips to Ohio, one to Mt. St. Joseph, and another to Defiance. Hanover and MSJ are slated to tip off at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 13. The Blue and Red will then trek to northwest Ohio to face the Yellow Jackets at 3 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 16.

CONFERENCE SCENARIOS: Hanover can win its third straight regular season title by securing at least one victory this week. Two wins will give HC its second outright title in three years, while a split will most likely match last season's co-championship. In both years, the Blue and Red doubled down by winning the HCAC Tournament championship en route to a NCAA Division III National Tournament appearance.

One win this week will also lock up the No. 1 seed for the Panthers, giving them home court advantage in the league's postseason tournament next week. The official bracket will be released by the conference office Sunday, Feb. 17.

CAM CLIMBING CAREER SCORING LIST: Senior guard Cam Fails (Cincinnati, Ohio) had a memorable final two home regular season games last week, as he moved into fifth all-time in program history for career scoring. The senior now has 1,695 career points, which makes him the highest scoring player of the 2000's for the Panthers. He recently passed former teammate Wes McKinney, as well as Andy Taft to move into the top five on the program's 127-year scoring list. Fail's scoring total is also 19th among active players in NCAA Division III.

For the season, the guard is averaging 21.7 points per game, which leads the HCAC and ranks among the top 30 in Division III. Fails is also logging career highs in rebounds (4.3), assists (4.0) and steals (2.2) per contest. His assist and steal marks are also among the league leaders.

SOPHOMORE SUCCESS: Second-year guard Isaac Hibbard (New Albany, Ind.) continued his strong campaign with two solid showings last week. Hibbard averaged 13.0 points and 7.0 rebounds per game in wins over Earlham and Manchester. The sophomore is now averaging a team-high 6.0 rebounds per game to along with 11.3 points, 3.0 assists and 1.5 steals per contest. Hibbard ranks among the top 10 in the HCAC in rebounds, assists and steals.

WILLIAMS WORKING THE POST: Junior Kevin Williams (Edinburgh, Ind.) has been Hanover's most consistent threat down low this season, averaging nine points and five rebounds per outing. Williams is also leading the HCAC in field goal percentage at .703. A 12-point, eight-rebound performance against Earlham highlighted his most recent play.

DOMINATING DEFENSE: One of the reasons for HC's success this season is its performance on the defensive end of the floor. Hanover is allowing 61.5 points per game, which ranks first in the HCAC and fourth across Division III. The Panthers recently held Earlham to 45 points, giving the squad 12 instances this season that they have conceded less than 60 points in a game. The Blue and Red lead the HCAC in both overall field goal (.415) and three-point field goal (.300) defense, with their mark from behind the arc also among the top 25 in the nation.

LESS IS MORE: Hanover, more often than not, has taken care of the little things on the court. The Panthers are among the nation's best on offense in terms of fewest turnovers, as well as one of the country's best defenses when it comes to fouling. With just 252 season giveaways, 11.0 per game, HC ranks among the top 25 in Division III. In terms of fouls, HC's 339 committed are the 25th fewest in the country.

SCOUTING MSJ: Mount St. Joseph enters the week 7-16 overall and 5-11 in HCAC play, two games back from forcing a tiebreaker for the sixth and final spot in the league tournament. The Lions though, have lost seven of their last eight overall, a stretch that began with a 73-52 loss at Hanover back on Jan. 16. During the stretch, MSJ is 0-3 at home and are just 3-6 at the Harrington Center this season. Mount St. Joseph is averaging 62.5 points per game, while allowing a shade over 70 per contest. Jake Cropper (16.0, 5.0) and Devin Young (14.3, 5.7) lead the team in scoring and rebounding.

The Panthers and Lions will be meeting for the eighth time in the past three season Wednesday night, with HC holding a 5-2 edge over the stretch, including wins in both the 2017 and 2018 HCAC Tournaments. The Blue and Red lead the all-time series, 33-8.

SCOUTING DEFIANCE: Defiance will travel to Earlham Wednesday and begin the final week of its season 3-20 overall and 1-15 in the HCAC. The Yellow Jackets won their lone conference game on Jan. 31 but are 0-3 since the calendar turned to February. Defiance is averaging 68.4 points per contest but are giving up close to 80 points per outing.  A trio of freshman lead the way for DC, including Tyler Andrew, who paces the squad in points (12.9) and rebounds (6.2) per game.

Hanover and Defiance will be meeting for the 75th time Saturday, as the Panthers hold a 42-32 edge in the all-time series. After rallying to win 77-72 back in December, HC is now riding a six-game win streak in the series, which is tied for its longest all-time.

Contact: Tyler Jester