Panthers earn second straight HCAC title, NCAA berth
Behind a combined 64 points from senior Levi Buck (Pendleton, Ind.), senior Wes McKinney (Batesville, Ind.) and junior Cam Fails (Mason, Ohio), the Hanover College men's basketball team won its second straight Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference tournament championship with an 80-70 win at Rose-Hulman Feb. 24 in Terre Haute, Ind.
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 the tournament's most valuable player after averaging 25.0 points through the three-game stretch. McKinney added 20.0 points per contest and 17 total rebounds in the tournament 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 with six rebounds.
Buck tied a season high with 17 points on 6-of-10 shooting. He 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 Feb. 23, he added another rejection in the finals.
Hanover never trailed in the championship game as a 7-0 scoring spurt gave them an early double-digit advantage, 15-5, just five minutes into the contest. 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. Hanover finished the opening 20 minutes with a .606 shooting clip. The Panthers also forced 11 first half Rose-Hulman 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 Panthers' advantage to 20 points, 49-29, for what would be the team's largest lead of the night. He also scored eight of the first 13 points for Hanover in the opening half.
Rose-Hulman (17-10) would not go away in the second half, cutting the Panthers' 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 Rose-Hulman 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 the Engineers 8-6 after the final media timeout to secure the championship.
Hanover shot better than 50 percent for the eighth straight game (.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.