Hibbard's career high helps No. 5 Panthers to 59-54 win over Bluffton

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HANOVER, Ind. – Despite tying a season low in field goal percentage, the No. 5 Hanover men's basketball team defeated Bluffton at home Saturday afternoon, 59-54.

The Panthers (6-2, 2-1 HCAC) relied on their defensive effort to earn their ninth straight win at home, as they held their third opponent in just eight games this season to under 60 points. Since the start of the 2016-17 campaign, Hanover is 8-0 when conceding less than 60 points.

The defensive effort was on full display in the first half, as HC allowed just 19 points, setting a new single half best in 2017-18. Hanover jumped out to an early 17-4 advantage, as a layup from senior Colin Smith (Cincinnati, Ohio) gave the team its largest lead of the night at 13 points, with just under 11 minutes remaining in the opening stanza. Smith finished with just three points, but tallied a team high seven rebounds off the bench.

Leading the offensive attack Saturday was freshman Isaac Hibbard (New Albany, Ind.). Hibbard, who was making the first start of his collegiate career, made 5-of-6 field goal attempts for a career high 15 points. The freshman made both of his three-point tries, while also making all three of his attempts from the foul line.

Also adding double figure scoring efforts were senior Wes McKinney (Batesville, Ind.) and junior Cam Fails (Mason, Ohio). McKinney went 6-for-6 at the charity stripe, as he totaled 12 points in the contest. The senior is now 18-of-20 at the foul line over the past three outings. Fails came off the bench for the fourth time this season, posting 14 points, and made a pair of triples in the process.

The Beavers (2-5, 1-2 HCAC) rallied from the early 13-point deficit to tie the game at 19-all with just under five minutes remaining before the intermission. Hanover responded however with two quick buckets to go up four points and a layup from Fails in the final minute of the half gave HC a 25-19 lead at the break.

The Panthers were plagued by a 0-for-5 shooting stretch during the Bluffton run, finishing the first half with a .333 field goal percentage. Overall, the Blue and Red made 20-of-53 shots, a .377 shooting clip.

Bluffton made four of its first six attempts in the second half to capture its largest lead of the game at four points, 31-27, with 15:40 left to play. The Beavers shot 54.5 percent in the second half to finish the game with a .444 shooting clip.

With the game tied at 35-all, Hibbard scored nine of the next 10 HC points to give the Panthers a 46-40 lead at the 7:24 mark of the second stanza.

Bluffton was able to close the gap to just two points, 51-49, but a layup from sophomore Logan Ratts (Martinsville, Ind.) and a combined six made free throws from McKinney and Fails helped secure the win for HC.

The Panthers have now won eight consecutive games that have been decided by five points or less, with the last loss coming to Rose-Hulman, 73-68, on Jan. 25, 2017.

Both sides enjoyed strong shooting performances from the charity stripe, combining to go 19-of-21 (.905). The Blue and Red finished 12-for-14, earning a five point advantage at the foul line.

Hanover will conclude the conference portion of its pre-New Year schedule with a trip to Defiance next Saturday, Dec. 16. The Panthers and Yellow Jackets are slated for a 3 p.m. tip.

Contact: Tyler Jester