Hanover, Ind. – The Transylvania men's basketball team came one game short of its NCAA Tournament bid, falling 76-73 to the Hanover College Panthers in an exhilarating Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference Tournament Championship game on Sunday afternoon at Collier Arena.
Advancing to its first HCAC Championship game appearance in seven years after winning by 12 in an HCAC semifinal over Franklin the evening before, tournament No. 2 seed Transylvania returned to the court on Sunday afternoon aiming to upend the No. 1 seed Hanover in their third overall meeting of the 2018-2019 season.
Leading the Panthers for most of the first half, the Pioneers abdicated the lead with less than two minutes to go and went to halftime with a three-point deficit. Transylvania spent the entire second half closely chasing Hanover, erasing a nine-point hole and coming back to tie the game at 64-64 with under six minutes to go. The Panthers countered with a three-pointer to regain a three-point buffer that the Pioneers would nip at for the rest of the game.
Transylvania had one final chance to tie the game with a potential three-pointer but junior guard Gabe Schmitt's desperation turnaround on a full-court escort of the basketball fell short as Hanover held on for the gritty victory.
Sophomore Lucas Gentry scored a team-high 25 points and was named to the HCAC Men's Basketball All-Tournament Team. Gentry followed up his double-double performance one night before against Franklin with an 8-for-14 night from the field on Sunday, hitting 3 of 6 three-pointers and going a perfect 6-for-6 from the free-throw line. The sophomore added five rebounds, two assists, and a steal.
Transylvania's other All-Tournament Team representative, sophomore guard Michael Jefferson, turned in 15 points, two rebounds, and three assists, one night after scoring a career-high 32 points in the HCAC semifinal win.
Schmitt was the other championship game double-digit scorer for Transylvania, providing continual clutch buckets for the Pioneers. He finished with 15 points on 4-for-8 shooting from the field and nailed 3 of 5 three-pointers, and 4 of 4 free-throw attempts.
Jefferson keyed the Transylvania attack to start the afternoon, opening the game with a layup and later hitting a three-pointer and a pair of free throws on back to back possessions to give Transylvania a 12-6 lead.
Gentry and Jefferson again took turns scoring, pushing the Pioneers' lead to 17-11 with 14:18 to go in the first half. Transylvania built its largest lead of the game at 20-13 after senior guard Cooper Theobald scored on an and-one play with 12 and a half minutes to go in the half.
The Pioneers encountered foul trouble as the Panthers reached the double bonus with over nine minutes to go in the first half, leading to 16 free-throw attempts in the first half and an 11-for-16 display at the charity stripe as they thinned the gap.
Hanover cut Transylvania's lead to 27-26 with six minutes to go before Schmitt knocked down a long 2-pointer and Gentry followed with a pair of free throws.
The Panthers buckled down and forced a series of defensive stops to ignite an 8-0 run to close the half for a 34-31 lead.
For the first seven minutes of the second half, the Pioneers stayed within arms' reach of the Panthers; Schmitt made a critical three-ball to thin Hanover's lead to 52-51. The Panthers rallied again with a 10-2 run, capped off by four straight points at the free-throw line to take their largest lead of the game at 62-53 with 9:05 to go.
The Pioneers quickly shook off the adverse conditions, starting with a three-pointer from sophomore guard Devin Twenty with 8:45 left. After forcing a stop, the Pioneers found sophomore forward Dominique Turner for an inside bucket. Hanover's Cam Fails, who scored a game-high 30 points, responded with a jump shot, but Twenty canned another 3-pointer inside three minutes remaining to cut the Hanover lead to 64-61. On the following possession, Gentry sank another three-pointer to tie up the game at 64-64 with 5:46 to go.
But after the Pioneers came back to tie the contest, Fails countered with another three-pointer with 5:14 to go, giving Hanover a lead it would not relinquish for the rest of the game. Still, Hanover's lead never grew larger than three points the rest of the way and the Pioneers continued to trade buckets with the Panthers to put themselves in a position to forge ahead.
With 17 seconds remaining, Jefferson hit a pair of free throws to cut the Hanover advantage to 73-71. Fails hit 1 of 2 free throws with 14 seconds to go down the other way, pushing Hanover's lead back to three.
The Pioneers eventually set up Gentry for a basket inside with four seconds remaining, cutting Hanover's lead to 74-73, and fouled Fails to send him to the line. The senior hit both free throws for a 76-73 lead with 3.6 seconds left.
Following a timeout, the Pioneers inbounded the ball the length of the court; Transylvania was able to revolve the ball into the frontcourt, but a tough look for Schmitt fell short of the bucket.
One night after only hitting two 3-pointers the entire game, the Pioneers finished 10-for-22 from behind the arc (46 percent) while the Panthers hit 6-of-14 three-point attempts.
The Panthers held a sizable advantage in free throws, hitting 26-of-36 tries while the Pioneers finished nearly perfect with a 17-for-18 showing at the foul line. The Panthers edged the Pioneers, 28-22 in points in the paint.
Despite the heartbreaking defeat, Transylvania men's basketball head coach Brian Lane expressed pride in his players' season-long progress and Sunday resolve: "I was really proud of our effort," stated Lane. "As the guys have done all year, they were tough and didn't quit, and got a game back to a tie score late. All we ask of them is to play hard and play the very best they can and I think we got that tonight."
The game also served as the final contest for two seniors in Theobald and Bo Schuh. As two longtime contemporaries who won a Kentucky State Championship together at Covington Catholic High School in 2014, Sunday's game also marked a unique finish line for the two veterans who wrapped up their 10th consecutive year as basketball teammates dating back to their middle school days. Schuh finished the game with three points, four rebounds, and three assists in 11 minutes of play while Theobald wrapped up his career with five points, five rebounds, five assists, and one block.
The Pioneers sign off on the 2018-19 season with an overall record of 17-10 and 13-5 in conference play to finish as the runner-up in both the HCAC regular season and conference tournament proceedings, marking Transylvania's best finish in HCAC play since the 2012-2013 season.
For more on Transylvania men's basketball, follow @TransyHoops on Twitter
2019 HCAC Men's Basketball All-Tournament Team
Jameel Cosby, Bluffton
Borden Kennedy, Franklin
Kevin Williams, Hanover
Michael Jefferson, Transylvania
Lucas Gentry, Transylvania
Cam Fails, Hanover - Most Valuable Player