Defiance, OH – Another season-high scoring night from junior Alex Jones and late-game comeback by the Transylvania men's basketball came just short against the Mt. St. Joseph Lions in the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference semifinals, as the #2 seed Lions advanced to the title game with a 71-65 win.
The loss ends the Pioneers' 2015-2016 season at 11-16 overall, and 10-10 against HCAC opposition.
The night also concluded the illustrious careers of seniors Parker Stansberry and Lowell Gordon, two steadfast mainstays of Coach Brian Lane's program for the last four years. Stansberry's final career line contained 12 points, seven rebounds, one assist, two steals, and three blocks, analogous to the multi-faceted reign he exacted during his time at Transy. Gordon's line also reflected his understated, yet impactful journey with the Pioneers, playing 27 minutes (fourth-highest for the Pioneers on this night) and grabbing two boards and two assists in his last stand.
Like the previous two meetings against Mt. St. Joseph in the regular season, this HCAC conference showdown between the #2 and #6 seeds in the tournament contained more than its fair share of theatrics and late-minute drama between the two closest southern neighbors in the conference.
The Pioneers signaled their intentions right off the tip as four different starters scored en route to an 8-5 lead over the first five minutes of the contest. After the Lions took an 11-10 lead, the Pioneers embarked on an 11-2 run, bolstered by a pair of field goals from freshman guard Cooper Theobald and Jones.
Mt. St. Joseph immediately responded with a 12-2 run of their own to close down the half, before a jumper from Theobald tied the game at 25 heading into the half.
The Lions resumed their momentum from before the break, scoring the first 12 points of the second half to build a 37-25 lead they would cling to for the rest of the game, but not without a fearsome pushback from the unheralded Pioneers.
Stansberry scored five quick points to end Mt. St. Joseph's 12-0 run, and Jones and Theobald assisted the senior with timely scores from the foul line to whittle the lead back down to single digits. Jones sent in a triple at the 10:16 mark and then hit another jumper with 9:45 left in the game to put the Pioneers back in it at 47-42.
After gaining another defensive stop, Transylvania freshman Hines Jones buried a three to pull the Pioneers within two at the 8:48 mark, and the end result looked to be anyone's guess. But the Lions employed another inconvenient run of eight straight points to build another double-digit lead with under five minutes to go.
From then, the Pioneers found one final store of resolve against all odds that has come to define their 2015-16 squad.
Prior to the evening, the most recent tussle between the Pioneers and Lions up in Cincinnati on February 10 entailed a gritty 3-point win by the visiting Crimson. This game tantalized attendees with its unpredictability right down to the very last play.
Trailing 60-49, Stansberry splashed in a 3-ball, the final field goal of the senior's career to make it an eight-point margin in favor of Mt. St. Joseph. Jones then tapped into his scoring outburst from the night before, scoring eight straight points as Transylvania again pulled within five at 65-60 at the 3-minute mark.
After the Lions took two points back at the charity stripe, Jones cashed in on his third consecutive long bomb for a 67-63 Pioneer deficit with 2:19 remaining in regulation. The Pioneers held their breath as the Lions missed a jumper, and Theobald hit a jump shot with 56 seconds left in the game to cut Mt. St. Joseph's lead to 67-65 with just 56 seconds to go. Transy's run over the past three-plus minutes was 13-4.
The Pios forced one more stop and received the ball with 25 seconds left and a chance to tie or take the lead, but Transylvania could not get a shot before turning the ball over. Transylvania fouled Mt. St. Joseph with 11 ticks left and the Lions hit both shots for a 69-65 lead. Jones took one last three-point attempt that missed with four seconds to go, and the Lions had held on, clinching a ticket to the Sunday afternoon HCAC championship game.
Alex Jones put a cap on his junior campaign with back-to-back season-high scoring games of 31 and 33 points. Jones shot 13-for-25, including 5-for-10 from downtown in his final game of his junior season, while Theobald set the tone for the rest of his career with a nine point, six rebound, four assist line off a 4-for-10 field goal shooting night.
Hines Jones signaled his future potential with a six point night off the bench, adding six rebounds in 25 minutes of work.
The Pioneers outshot the Lions from the arc, hitting nine threes to Mt. St. Joseph's six, but the Lions won a clear battle at the foul line, shooting 15-for-20 compared to just 4-for-8 by the Pioneers. Only using seven players, the Lions spread the ball around for 20 assists, compared to 11 by Transylvania.
Both teams were nearly identical in the field goal category: Transylvania shot 44.1 percent from the floor, while Mt. St. Joseph shot a sliver better at 44.6 percent.
Transylvania concludes its 15th season under the tutelage of Brian Lane with another HCAC tournament appearance and a rousing run nearly culminating in the conference championship game after a challenging 2-9 start to the year.
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