Panthers in search of third straight tournament title, host HCAC postseason play this weekend

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HANOVER, Ind. – Fresh off its third straight Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference regular season championship, the Hanover men's basketball team will look to add more hardware this weekend when they host the league's postseason tournament.

SETTING THE SCENE: Hanover (19-6) will host all three rounds of tournament play this weekend, beginning with opening round action Friday, Feb. 22. The Panthers will then begin their quest for their third straight tournament title at 5 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 23, in the semifinals. Sunday, Feb. 24, will see the two semifinal winners compete in the championship game, which is slated for a 2 p.m. start. All five games will be played inside Collier Arena. This will be the third straight season that Hanover has hosted a postseason game at home. More information on ticket prices and game times can be found on the links above.

THE FIELD: The Blue and Red earned the tournament's No. 1 seed after producing a 14-4 mark in HCAC play to win its second outright regular season championship in three years. Transylvania (16-9, 13-5 HCAC) received the second opening round bye and will begin tournament play in the second semifinal contest Saturday. The No. 3 seed, Rose-Hulman (17-8, 13-5 HCAC) will face No. 6 Franklin (11-14, 9-9 HCAC) in the second opening round game, with an approximate 8 p.m. tip Friday. The first game of the tournament, beginning at 6 p.m., Friday, will feature the Nos. 4. and 5 seeds, Bluffton (16-8, 11-7 HCAC) and Anderson (11-14, 10-8 HCAC). Hanover produced a 7-3 record against the other tournament teams, highlighted by regular season sweeps of Transylvania and Franklin. The Panthers split with the Nos. 3-5 seeds, falling to each side by six or fewer points on the road.

20 for 20: The Panthers are just one win away from their 20th 20-win season in program history. A victory Saturday would give HC three straight 20-plus win seasons, marking only the fifth time in school history that feat would have been accomplished. Former coaches John Collier, the arena namesake, and Mike Beitzel each had two stretches of at least three consecutive seasons with 20 or more victories, which included one run for each coach of four straight years.

HOME SWEET HANOVER: Since the inception of Collier Arena in 1995-96, Hanover has been able to use its home court to its advantage, as this season marks the 15th time the Blue and Red have posted double-digit home wins. The Panthers are 10-1 at home this season and riding a nine-game win streak inside Collier Arena. Hanover has also found similar success at home in postseason play, winning its last six HCAC and Division III National Tournament games. The Blue and Red defeated Bluffton 88-78 in last season's HCAC Opening Round and went 4-0 at home during conference and national tournament games in 2017. The current win streak started with a 78-70 win over Franklin in 2014.

TOURNAMENT HISTORY: Hanover has won the most HCAC Tournament championships of any school in the league, five, with titles in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2017 and 2018. A championship this weekend would mark the second HCAC three-peat for Hanover in school history. The Panthers are also tied with Franklin for the most finals appearances, eight. Combined, the six schools have 15 HCAC Tournament championships, with Franklin, Rose-Hulman and Transylvania adding four, three and three, respectively, to HC's total.

DOMINATING DEFENSE: Part of Hanover's success this winter is due to its performance on the defensive end of the court. The Panthers are allowing 61.7 points per game, which tops the HCAC and ranks fifth-best in Division III. With a 72-58 win at Defiance last Saturday, HC held its 13th opponent this season to under 60 points. Hanover is among the conference and national leaders in field goal (.420) and three-point (.313) percentage defenses and is also one of just four schools in the conference averaging seven or more steals per game.

CAM CAN SCORE: Senior Cam Fails (Cincinnati, Ohio) is currently leading the HCAC in scoring at 21.0 points per game. The senior can become the first Panther to lead the conference in scoring since Mitchell Meyer did so in the 2008-09 campaign. With 1,719 career points, Fails ranks fifth on Hanover's all-time scoring list, 21st among active NCAA Division III players and 75th across all three NCAA divisions.

Fails, a four-time HCAC player of the week award winner this season, is also averaging career-high marks in rebounds (4.3), assists (4.4) and steals per game (2.2). His assist and steal marks are among the conference leaders as well. The guard is coming off an 18-point, 12-assist outing in the regular season finale at Defiance.

CLONCS COMING ON: Junior Ryan Cloncs (Danville, Ind.) returned to action last week after a brief absence due to injury. Cloncs scored in double figures in both games, running his double-digit scoring streak to three games. The junior posted a career-high 17 points at Defiance last weekend and finished the week 10-of-18 from the field, including an 8-for-13 effort from behind the arc. The forward was also key in last season's conference tournament run, where he scored a then career-high 11 points against Mt. St. Joseph in the semifinals.

HIBBARD, WILLIAMS PITCHING IN: Starters Isaac Hibbard (New Albany, Ind.) and Kevin Williams (Edinburgh, Ind.) have been key contributors to the Panther attack all season long. Hibbard is second on the team in scoring, 11.2 points per outing, while also leading the team in rebounds per game, 6.0. After tying a season-high with 17 points last Saturday, the sophomore has now tallied double-digit scoring numbers in 18 of the last 20 games. Williams is among the HCAC leaders in field goal percentage, .698, as he is averaging 9.3 points and five rebounds per contest. The junior has reached double figures in scoring in six of the last eight outings.

PANTHERS UNDER MILLER: With its first place finish this season, head coach Jon Miller has now led the Panthers top a top three showing in the HCAC standings in nine of his 11 seasons at the helm. At HC, Miller is 188-102 (.640) overall and 137-57 (.706) in conference games. He currently has the third most wins of any coach in school history, while ranking second in winning percentage. Miller's career win percentage, .608, is among the top 50 active coaches in Division III as well. The Blue and Red are in search of their fourth NCAA Division III National Tournament appearance under Miller.

NCAA SELECTION SHOW: The winner of this weekend's tournament will receive the conference's automatic bid into the NCAA Division III Tournament, which begins the first weekend of March. The selection show announcing each tournament team's fate will be aired on NCAA.com at 12:30 p.m., Monday, Feb. 25.

Contact: Tyler Jester

jestert@hanover.edu