Gutty second half, Schmitt’s shooting carries Pioneers to first round HCAC victory

Senior guard Alex Jones was two assists short of a triple-double as the Pioneers moved to an HCAC semifinal date with Hanover on Saturday
Senior guard Alex Jones was two assists short of a triple-double as the Pioneers moved to an HCAC semifinal date with Hanover on Saturday

Hanover, Ind. - Freshman guard Gabe Schmitt exploded for six 3-pointers as the Transylvania men's basketball team won 71-66 over the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology Fightin' Engineers in the first round of the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference Tournament Friday night at Collier Arena.

Schmitt shot 6-for-9 from the 3-point line en route to a game-high 21 points as the Pioneers rode a hot-shooting second half to victory over the Engineers.

The Pioneers shot 8-for-16 from downtown in the second half to advance to Saturday's HCAC Semifinal matchup with the No. 1 seed and host team Hanover College, scheduled for a 5:00 p.m tipoff.

The Pioneers received a balanced attack from a wealth of experience, as senior guard Alex Jones tallied a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds, along with a game-high eight assists.

Sophomore guard Cooper Theobald contributed 17 points on 5-for-10 shooting from the field, coming just one rebound short of a double-double while adding four assists and one steal.

The first-round win was a story of execution for Transylvania, who passed the baton of momentum to the Engineers to close the first half, as RHIT took a 30-28 halftime advantage. But the heady Pioneers outscored Rose-Hulman 43-36 in the second half to defeat the Engineers for the second straight meeting and win the season series, 2-1.

The tide turned for the Pioneers with 10 minutes to go in the second half. Jones hit a creative jump shot to give Transy a 54-53 lead, and sophomore forward Kyle Gullett splashed home a 3-pointer for a 57-53 lead with 10 minutes on the clock. On the following possession, Schmitt knocked down his sixth 3-pointer of the contest to cap off an 8-0 run for the Pioneers in what was a game of runs.

After the Engineers halted the Pioneers' run with a three of their own, junior guard Isaiah Pollard got in on the fun as he hit a straightaway 3-pointer. The Engineers spent the rest of the night trying to whittle away at Transy's lead, cutting it down to 65-64 with 3:33 remaining, but Gullett sent in his third 3-pointer of the game to forge a 68-64 lead.

The Pioneers inched closer to extinguishing the clock as Theobald claimed two offensive rebounds inside the two-minute mark of the game, and the extra possession was punctuated with a reverse layup from freshman guard Spencer McKinney to grow the Pioneers' lead to six with 75 seconds to go.

Along with 13 points, Gullett added six blocks to continue his reign as the conference's leading shot-blocker. The six rejections tied a season-high in single-game blocks for Gullett, an achievement set two times earlier this season.

The Pioneers now look ahead to a gargantuan match with Hanover, the victor of the HCAC regular-season schedule who has now found its way into the Top 25 since their last meeting. Transylvania has lost to Hanover by a combined three-points, with both indignities coming on game-winning shots with two seconds or less in each contest.

Transylvania last faced Hanover in a tournament game last season, when the Pioneers took care of the Panthers 77-67 in the first round of the 2016 HCAC Tournament.

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