Hanover opens HCAC Tournament play with 64-59 win over Bluffton

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HANOVER, Ind. – The adage may go, "it is hard to beat a team three times in one year," but the Hanover women's basketball squad did just that Tuesday night, defeating Bluffton in the opening round of the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference Tournament, 64-59.

The Panthers (19-7), who bested Bluffton by 23 and nine points in the regular season, rallied to outscore the Beavers (9-17) by eight points in the second half to secure their second straight HCAC Tournament Semifinal appearance.

The Blue and Red were led by junior Katie Hartman (Madison, Ind.), who scored 13 of her team-high 20 points in the first quarter on a five-for-six shooting performance. Hartman finished 7-of-13 from the field and added four rebounds as well.

Classmate Alexis Nall (Mount Vernon, Ind.) recorded her sixth straight double-double, working through early foul trouble to finish with 15 points and 11 rebounds. Nall netted 7-of-10 field goal attempts.

Leading the team with a career-high 14 rebounds was sophomore Savannah Courtney (Lawrenceburg, Ky.). Courtney pitched in with nine points as well. Senior Avery Chezem (Loogootee, Ind.) provided a spark off the bench, leading Hanover with four assists and three steals, to go along with nine points and three rebounds.

Both sides hovered the 60-percent field goal mark for most of the first quarter and a 7-0 run, capped by a Hartman trey, gave the Blue and Red a 22-16 lead with 1:05 remaining in the period. After Bluffton called timeout, the Beavers tacked on two points before the clock struck zero to pull within four points.

Hanover extended its lead to eight points early in the second stanza, as a three-pointer from Chezem and a free throw from Courtney had HC in front 28-20. The Beavers though, were able to rally with Nall, the HCAC's leading scorer, on the bench for the final 6:36 of the half. Bluffton closed the final five minutes on an 8-2 run to take a 37-34 advantage into the break.

The Panthers trailed for nearly the entire third quarter, seeing the Beavers lead by as many as five points. However, a Nall layup at the 1:42 mark but HC back in front for its first lead of the half, 46-45, a tally they would take into the final 10-minute period.

The Blue and Red never trailed in the fourth but Bluffton was able to close the gap to one possession, 55-53, with a little less than four minutes remaining. Back-to-back jumpers from Nall and Courtney though ultimately but Bluffton away. Hartman and Chezem each made a pair of free throws down the stretch to help hold off the Beaver rally.

Overall, there were three ties and nine lead changes. The entire game was played within a 13-point window, with Hanover's largest lead being eight points and Bluffton's five. The Blue and Red also outgained the Beavers 39-30 on the glass, with 12 offensive rebounds turning into 10 second chance points for HC.

The Panthers, who are 6-0 in the month of February, will look to continue their season when they square off against the No. 2 seed, Rose-Hulman, Friday, Feb. 22. The contest is scheduled to tip at approximately 8 p.m. in Lexington, Ky., and will be the second semifinal game of the night at Transylvania. Hanover and RHIT split the regular season series, with each side winning on its home court.

Contact: Tyler Jester