TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (February 24, 2018) – For the second consecutive winter, tournament time has become the time for the Hanover College men's basketball team to shine. That's especially true for junior guard Cam Fails and senior forward Wes McKinney as the duo led the Panthers to their second straight Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference championship with an 80-70 victory Saturday over Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology on the Engineers' own Hulbert Arena.
Hanover (22-6) will now represent the league in the NCAA Division III national tournament, starting next weekend. Pairings and regional site locations will be announced Monday afternoon by the NCAA.
At 5-foot-11, Fails may be the shortest player on the Panthers' roster, but he stood tall throughout the championship game. He scored 14 of his game-high 26 points in the first half as the team took control of the game from the opening tipoff. He also had seven assists (game high), two steals, one blocked shot and three rebounds – each of these statistics having a profound impact on the game's outcome.
Not surprising, Fails was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player. He scored 76 points (26, 20 and 30) as Hanover came from being the No. 3 seed, despite tying for the HCAC's regular season title, to win three straight postseason games.
Also unforgettable was McKinney's performance, certainly in the first half when the visitors took 46-29 halftime lead. The All-American candidate made seven of his 12 shots in those first 20 minutes, and finished with 21 points and six rebounds. He earned all-tournament honors. Senior Levi Buck also added 17 points for Coach Jon Miller's team.
Fails, McKinney and Buck were major contributors as Hanover had a 26-4 record after advancing to the Elite Eight of last year's NCAA tournament.
Rose-Hulman (17-10), the tournament's host as the No. 1 seed, was led by sophomore forward John Czarnecki with 21 points (on 8-of-9) shooting and eight rebounds. He was another all-tournament selection. Junior Charlie Aimone had 14 points after making two 3-point field goals in the final four minutes. Junior Nick McGrail added 13 points.
INSIDE THE GAME
Cam Fails and Wes McKinney came to the rescue for Hanover to extinguish any rally by Rose-Hulman on its home floor. A 7-to-2 run moved the Engineers within 11 points, 69-58, with 6:10 remaining, and they were driving for a potential momentum-changing basket when McKinney came up with a steal. Fails proceeded to take the ball back down the floor and found Levi Buck for a 3-point field goal to keep the Panthers comfortably on top. Then, minutes later Fails took a charge for the fifth personal foul on Rose-Hulman leading scorer and point guard Craig McGee, who was held scoreless after having a team-high 20 points in a semifinal victory. Fails made two fall-away jump shots in the final two minutes to seal the championship victory.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
- Hanover made seven of its first 10 shots in the game to take an early 21-7 lead, and ended the first half by shooting 60% (20-of-33) for a 46-29 halftime edge.
- Hanover had only eight turnovers in the game, while forcing Rose-Hulman into 17 mistakes.
- Rose-Hulman forward John Czarnecki made 16 of his 17 field goals in two tournament games.
- Hanover won its fifth HCAC championship, having captured titles at the end of the 2018, 2017, 2005, 2004 and 2003 seasons; the Panthers were runners-up in 2014, 2013, 2011 and 1995.
- The victory avenged two regular-season setbacks for Hanover against Rose-Hulman, including a 68-66 overtime loss at Hulbert Arena Jan. 31.
- Hanover has won 48 of its 58 games during the past two seasons.
- Hanover is now 2-3 against Rose-Hulman in HCAC tournament games.
- Hanover won its second straight Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference championship; the Panthers defeated Mount St. Joseph University in the 2017 title game.
- Junior guard Cam Fails was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player after 76 points in three tournament games.
- Other members of the All-Tournament Team were senior Wes McKinney of Hanover College, sophomore John Czarnecki of Rose-Hulman, senior Andrew Finley of Mount St. Joseph University, senior Trevor Lucas of Anderson University and junior Cooper Theobald of Transylvania University.
Hanover College (22-6) advances to represent the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference in the NCAA Division III national tournament. The regional site and first-round opponent will be announced Monday by the NCAA.