Behind strong bench showing, Panthers rally past MSJ in HCAC Semis, 77-68

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TERRE HAUTE, Ind. – The Hanover men's basketball team ended its HCAC Tournament Semifinal contest against Mt. St. Joseph on a 24-5 run en route to a 77-68, come-from-behind victory, advancing to the conference championship game for the second consecutive season.

Trailing by 10 points, 63-53, with 7:31 remaining in the contest, the Panthers (21-6) rattled off 15 straight points to take a 68-63 lead with 2:32 showing on the clock. Highlighting the run was sophomore Ryan Cloncs (Danville, Ind.), who hit back-to-back three pointers for six of his career high 11 points. Cloncs finished with four makes in seven shots. Junior Cam Fails (Mason, Ohio) added another three-pointer giving HC nine straight points from behind the arc.

The Lions (17-9), who were the tournament's No. 2 seed, snapped the scoring spurt by the Blue and Red with a trey of their own, closing the HC advantage to 68-66 with 2:17 remaining. After one minute of scoreless basketball, senior Wes McKinney (Batesville, Ind.) nailed an open three in the corner to push the Panther advantage to five points, 71-66. Hanover made all six of its free throw attempts down the stretch to secure its fourth win over MSJ in the past 12 months.

Despite being plagued with early foul trouble, Fails finished with a team high 20 points, doing most of his damage at the charity stripe, where he went 8-for-9. McKinney played the entire 40 minutes, while adding 18 points on 6-of-12 shooting.

Cloncs guided a Hanover bench that outscored MSJ's reserves 25-4 in the game, including 14-0 in the opening half. The 14 first half bench points kept the Panthers close at the break as they dealt with foul issues by multiple starters. Sophomore Isaac Hibbard(New Albany, Ind.) added 10 points off the bench as well.

Leading a stout defensive effort, especially in the second half, was junior Nick White (New Albany, Ind.). White hosted his own block party in Terre Haute, Ind., rejecting a career-high seven shots. His block total marked the first time in nearly two seasons a Hanover player had at least five in a single game. The last time the Panthers, as a team, had seven blocks in a game, came on Dec. 2, 2017, against Franklin.

Hanover's suffocating second half defense held MSJ to just 28 points on 35.5 percent shooting. The Lions entered the contest ranked among the top 10 in the country in field goal percentage but were held to just a .397 clip Friday.

The Panthers shot over 56 percent in the first half before finishing the contest at 50 percent, making 26-of-52 field goals. Hanover also made 15-of-17 free throw attempts, including a perfect 14-for-14 effort in the second stanza.

The first half saw HC fall behind by 10 points early, 20-10, but Cloncs led a strong effort from the bench that eventually gave them a 28-27 lead. Cloncs nailed his opening three-pointer, sophomore Logan Ratts (Martinsville, Ind.) laid in a nifty euro-style layup and Hibbard converted on a three-point play to highlight the comeback.

Hanover will now face the host and No. 1 seed, Rose-Hulman, at 4 p.m. in the HCAC Tournament Final. The Panthers will be in search of their second straight postseason conference championship and NCAA National Tournament appearance but will need to snap a three-game losing skid against the Engineers to do so.

Contact: Tyler Jester