Hanover, Ind. – Meeting for the third time this season, the Transylvania men's basketball team endured a similar final-second loss against the Hanover College Panthers with a 78-76 defeat in Saturday afternoon's semifinals of the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference men's basketball tournament.
Looking to erase the sting of two regular-season last-second losses against Hanover by a combined three points, the Pioneers entered Saturday's game in the highest of stakes. On the line was a chance to advance to Sunday's HCAC Tournament Championship game for the right to the automatic bid for the NCAA Tournament.
The No. 1 seed and tournament host, Hanover put its foot on the gas as the game begun, taking a 22-12 lead in the first 10 minutes of gameplay. Transylvania promptly responded with a 10-2 run as the back-and-forth dynamic conjured up eerie memories of the Pios and Panthers' first two meetings of the season.
Hanover took back momentum following the Transy run, but the Pioneers replicated another 10-2 run to close out the half, capped off by senior guard Alex Jones' layup that spotted the Pioneers a 40-38 halftime advantage.
The Pioneers continued riding their wave of momentum out of the half as freshman guard Gabe Schmitt hit a 3-pointer to extend Transylvania's lead to 49-42 with 15:59 left in the second half.
Hanover roared back to tie the game at 51-51 with 11:43 remaining on an inside finish from Corey Muchmore. From that point on, the contest remained a one-possession game full of ties and lead changes until the 3:16 mark of the second half, when a jump shot from Wes McKinney and free throw from guard Cam Fails pushed Hanover's lead to 70-64.
The pendulum swung the other way to a Transy team that was looking for revenge and redemption after two bitter regular-season losses to the Panthers. Freshman guard Spencer McKinney confidently buried a side triple, and Jones scored on an and-one play inside to bring the Pioneers within two. Sophomore guard Cooper Theobald crafted his way inside to tie the game at 72-all with 1:45 to go.
The game went back-and-forth in the final 100 seconds, and when McKinney hit a free throw to put Hanover ahead 75-74, Transylvania issued a response on a willed drive from Jones for a 76-75 lead. But Hanover executed a patient play to set up Muchmore for an inside shot and was fouled on the play; Muchmore completed his three-point play to put Hanover ahead 78-76 with less than five seconds to go.
The Pioneers inbounded from near midcourt and Jones hung up a fadeway three that fell short as the clock expired, bringing his prolific career and the 2016-17 season for the Pioneers to a close.
Jones finished with a game-high 31 points on the same day the senior became the 17th member of the Transylvania men's basketball program to hit the 1,500-point career scoring mark. Jones completed his Pioneers career with 1,515 points.
Two other Pioneers tallied double-digit outputs; Schmitt poured in 12 points while McKinney provided 13 points off the bench.
Transylvania shot 45 percent from the field and 8-for-25 from the 3-point line (32 percent), while Hanover made a living from inside-the-arc, where the Panthers shot 62 percent on two-point shots.
The Pioneers completed a promising season at 17-10 overall in a 2016-17 season that will be remembered for a double-digit winning streak and a myriad of close finishes, some of which the Pioneers finished on the happy side of, and others which swung the other way.
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