HANOVER, Ind. – For the third straight season, the Hanover men's basketball team can call itself the undisputed champion of the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference, as the Panthers defeated Transylvania in the tournament championship game Sunday afternoon, inside Collier Arena, 76-73.
With the win, the Panthers improve to 21-6 overall and secure the HCAC's automatic bid into the NCAA Division III National Tournament. When HC tips off next week it will be the sixth national tournament game for the program in the past three seasons, a run highlighted by a trip to the Elite Eight in 2016-17. Hanover's win also marks just the third time in program history they have won three postseason conference tournaments in a four-year span and the second three-peat of the HCAC era, with the other run coming from 2003 to 2005.
For his efforts, senior Cam Fails (Cincinnati, Ohio) was named HCAC Tournament most valuable player for the second straight year. Over a two-game stretch, Fails averaged 24.5 points, 6.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 2.5 steals per contest. The senior posted a team-high 30 points in the tournament's finale Sunday, including 24 in the second half. Fails was 7-of-14 from the field and 13-for-18 at the foul line, while also recording six rebounds and four assists.
Junior Kevin Williams (Edinburgh, Ind.) logged his second double-double of the season, as he totaled 19 points and 10 rebounds during the championship contest. Williams was 9-of-11 from the field and added two of HC's three blocked shots defensively. The junior was named to the all-tournament team after averaging 16.0 points and 7.0 rebounds per game, while shooting 83.3 percent (15-18) from the field.
An 8-2 run by the Pioneers (17-10) gave them their largest lead of the contest, seven points, at 15-8 a little over four minutes into play. Transylvania would match its highest margin on numerous occasions in the first half.
Fails would find himself in early foul trouble, picking up his second personal at the 10:59 mark of the first half. Hanover trailed 21-15 with his departure to the bench. Despite missing the HCAC's leading scorer, the Panthers gained ground on the Pioneers. With Fails' re-arrival at the 3:33 mark, HC trailed by just five points.
The Blue and Red went on to close the first half on an 8-0 run, holding Transy scoreless for the final 4:04 of the period. Fails had four points during the run, including a three-pointer at the 2:26 mark to give HC its first lead of the day at 32-31.
Williams, along with the bench, provided 19 first half points for Hanover. Junior Logan Ratts (Martinsville, Ind.) logged all five of his points in the first half, while freshman Carlos Garcia (Mason, Ohio) recorded four rebounds and four assists during 21 total minutes of action.
With the game still tightly contested early in the second half, the Panthers used a 10-2 run to capture their largest lead at nine points, enjoying a 62-53 edge with 9:05 remaining. Fails tallied seven points during the run, with Williams and sophomore Isaac Hibbard (New Albany, Ind.) hitting free throws during the stretch as well. Hibbard finished with 13 points and four assists, doing most of his scoring damage at the charity stripe where he went seven-for-eight.
Transylvania though, with a key run by its reserve players, clawed back to tie the contest at 64-all with just under six minutes to play. On Hanover's next possession, Fails hit a contested three pointer as the shot clock expired to put the Panthers back in front, 67-64, with 5:14 remaining.
After Fails' trey, the Blue and Red would lead the rest of the way, as they received key baskets from Williams and junior Ryan Cloncs (Danville, Ind.) in the closing minutes. Hibbard and Fails also combined for five makes at the foul line to keep HC's lead at three points, 76-73, with three seconds showing on the clock.
The Pioneers were able to advance the ball across midcourt and get off a shot as time expired, but the desperation heave would fall short of the rim into Hibbard's hands.
Hanover, thanks to a second half that saw the team make 12-of-18 field goals (.667), finished the contest with an overall shooting clip of .512. The Panthers also netted 26-of-36 attempts at the line, making eight more shots than Transy (17-18) attempted at the charity stripe. With turnovers nearly identical, HC was also able to enjoy an 11-2 edge in points off giveaways.
"We made a change my sophomore year," said Fails postgame. "We were going to outwork every team in the league, and it starts in the fall when we arrive on campus. We work hard from the second week of school until now and thankfully we have been able to get the results we want."
Hanover will now wait to find out what its future holds in terms of the NCAA Division III tournament. The Panthers' fate will be decided with the national selection show, which is scheduled to air on NCAA.com at 12:30 p.m., Monday, Feb. 25.
Contact: Tyler Jester