Defensive effort sends men's basketball to HCAC Tournament Final

Cam Fails

HANOVER, Ind. – A balanced offensive attack, paired with a strong performance defensively, helped lift the Hanover men's basketball team over Bluffton Saturday afternoon in Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference Tournament semifinal action, 69-49.

With the win, the Panthers (20-6) secured their third straight trip to the HCAC Tournament championship game, as well as the program's 20th 20-win season. Hanover has also won both of its recent tournament finals' appearances. Bluffton, the tournament's No. 4 seed, concludes its 2018-19 season with a 17-9 overall mark.

The top-seeded Blue and Red got off to a fast start, leading 10-2 at the first under 16-minute media timeout. Sophomore Isaac Hibbard (New Albany, Ind.) scored or assisted on the first seven Hanover points as HC never trailed Saturday.

Hibbard finished as one of four players in double figures for HC, scoring 12 points on five-of-nine shooting. The sophomore flirted with a double-double, grabbing a team-high nine rebounds while also dishing out four assists.

Hanover's lead continued to grow early in the first half and a trey by senior Cam Fails (Cincinnati, Ohio) put the Panther advantage at 17-6 with 11:51 remaining in the opening stanza. Fails' shot made HC 6-for-12 from the field, while the Beavers were held to just 2-of-10 shooting a little over eight minutes in.

Fails paced the Panthers with 19 points and tied Hibbard for the team-lead in helpers as well. The senior added six rebounds and four steals to round out a balanced statistical performance.

Behind 11 first half points from junior Kevin Williams (Edinburgh, Ind.) and seven by classmate Ryan Cloncs (Danville, Ind.), Hanover led 34-27 at the intermission. The Panthers led by as many as 11 points on numerous occasions, but the Beavers tallied six of the final eight points to pull within seven at the break.

Cloncs and Williams would finish with 14 and 13 points respectively. Cloncs added five rebounds and was the third Panther with four assists. Williams battled through early foul trouble to make six-of-seven field goal attempts, while also grabbing four boards.

In the second half, Hanover continued to apply the defensive pressure, allowing just 22 points, as Bluffton made 10-of-24 field goal attempts. The Beavers' lone three-point field goal came in the second half, as they finished the contest 1-for-13 from long range.

A pair of jumpers from Cloncs gave HC an 11-point edge, 38-27, early in the second half. The Blue and Red's lead would stay inside a 9-to-13-point window until the midway point of the frame.

With 8:43 showing on the clock, Hanover used a 15-3 run to balloon its advantage to 24 points, 66-42, for its largest lead of the game. The Panthers conceded just three points in the nearly five-minute stretch to secure the win.

The Blue and Red shot .481 (26-54) for the game, while Bluffton went 21-for-48 from the field, a .438 clip. Hanover also enjoyed a 34-25 edge on the glass, turning 10 offensive rebounds into 11 second chance points. The Panthers also executed 21 points off 16 BU turnovers.

The Panthers will host the HCAC Tournament championship game for the second time in three years on Sunday, Feb. 24. Hanover, who is looking to lock up its third straight NCAA Division III National Tournament appearance, will face No. 2 Transylvania at 2 p.m., inside Collier Arena.

Contact: Tyler Jester