Season ends for men's basketball with loss to Wheaton in NCAA Tournament Opening Round

Cam Fails

WOOSTER, Ohio – The Hanover men's basketball team saw its 2018-19 season come to an end Friday night, falling to Wheaton (Ill.) in the opening round of the NCAA Division III National Tournament, 84-73.

An early defensive battle broke out, with the first basket coming nearly 2:30 in, as junior Blake Robertson (Greenfield, Ind.) netted a triple from the right wing. Classmate Ryan Cloncs (Danville, Ind.) added his own three-pointer a few possessions later, giving HC a 6-4 edge at the first media timeout of the night at the 15:54 mark.

The Thunder (20-8) though, used a 16-1 run over the next 5:30 to take a 20-7 advantage on the scoreboard. Cloncs added another trey to pull the Panthers within nine but three consecutive three pointers from Wheaton had its lead up to 16 points, 33-17, with 6:27 left in the first half.

Thanks to a .514 shooting percentage, including an 8-17 effort from deep, the Thunder led the Blue and Red 45-27 at the break. Hanover's slow start offensively, including two makes in its first 10 field goal attempts, had the team at a .267 shooting clip 20 minutes into action.

The Panthers attempted to claw their way back numerous times early in the second half, but each time Wheaton had answer to keep the lead at 15-plus points. Hanover found itself in a 16-point deficit, 75-59, with 4:52 remaining.

Hanover continued to show resiliency as a Cloncs trey and two free throws from sophomore Isaac Hibbard (New Albany, Ind.) to cut the margin to 11 points. Cloncs then added a jumper a few possessions later and on the ensuing in-bounds pass, freshman Carlos Garcia (Mason, Ohio) recorded a steal and dished the ball out to classmate Zach Harp (Cincinnati, Ohio) for a three-pointer, making the margin six points, 75-69, with 3:00 showing on the game clock.

Wheaton though, answered with a three pointer of its own on the next possession to end any hopes of a Hanover comeback. The Blue and Red could only cut the deficit to seven points down the stretch before falling 84-73.

The Panthers, one of the nation's top scoring defenses, allowed an opponent to reach the 80-point plateau for the first time this season. Wheaton's Aston Francis, who entered Friday as the nation's top individual scorer at 32.3 points per game, tallied 42 points against HC for his seventh 40-point game of the season.

A balanced offensive attack for Hanover had three in double figures, as well as three additional players with eight points. Hibbard led the team with 18 points, which ties a career-high mark. The sophomore guard added six rebounds as well.

Cloncs totaled 15 points in the contest, while tying for the team-high in rebounds, seven, and assists, three. Senior Cam Fails (Cincinnati, Ohio) battled through early foul trouble and an apparent illness to finish with 12 points and three assists. Fails, the two-time Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference Most Valuable Player, concludes his collegiate career with 1,780 points, the fifth highest total in Panther lore.

Junior Kevin Williams (Edinburgh, Ind.), along with Garcia and Harp each pitched in with eight points. Williams snatched seven rebounds as well. Garcia and Harp provided a spark off the bench, as Garcia also contributed six rebounds and three assists.

Hanover outscored Wheaton 46-39 in the second half, despite the Thunder still shooting nearly percent in the period. The Panthers added a second-half shooting mark of .486.

Hanover finishes with a 21-7 overall record, which marks the third consecutive season the team has posted 20 or more wins, a feat that has only been accomplished five times in school history. The Panthers also won their third straight HCAC regular season and tournament championships to qualify for the national spectacle.

Contact: Tyler Jester