TERRE HAUTE, IND. (Feb. 23, 2013) –- When the going got tough, the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology men’s basketball team turned to its heralded defense for a 64-59 come-from-behind victory over Hanover College to win the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference’s Championship Tournament on the Engineers’ Hulbert Arena.
Rose-Hulman, 24-3 for the season and ranked No. 23 by d3hoops.com, captured the HCAC tournament title for the second straight season –- meaning that the program has earned back-to-back NCAA Division III tournament berths for the first time since 1996-97. The team will learn its opponent and site of a first-round game when this year’s NCAA championship tournament field is announced on Monday, February 25 at 12:30 p.m. on ncaa.com.
The Engineers are 20-0 when holding their opponents to under 60 points this season. That streak looked to be in jeopardy as Hanover held a 50-47 lead with 7:13 remaining.
That’s when the defense intensified and senior forward Brenton Balsbaugh put a stamp on his tournament Most Valuable Player performance with seven points and key two blocked shots. Junior guard Julian Strickland also added seven points as the tournament hosts outscored the Panthers 17-9 down the stretch.
Balsbaugh matched season-high 17-point performances in both tournament games. The championship game effort was his most impressive, making 7-of-9 field goals, 3-of-3 free throws, four rebounds, three blocked shots and one steal in 25 minutes.
Strickland, last year’s tournament MVP, scored 13 points and had a team-high nine rebounds. He shared all-tournament honors with senior guard Austin Weatherford, who added 12 points and five assists. Senior forward Jon Gerken rounded out the team’s double-figure scorers with 10 points.
Sophomore guard Tim Bass led Hanover, 18-9, with 12 points and earned all-tournament honors. Senior guard Ryan Nowicki added 10 points as the Panthers lost to Rose-Hulman for the third time this season and second time in a week. The three games have been decided by a total of eight points.
Hanover took advantage of a cold-shooting Rose-Hulman team to take command early. The Engineers made just one of their first 10 shots (10 percent) and trailed 12-2 in the first eight minutes. However, the hosts came back and took the lead, 27-26, following a slam dunk by Balsbaugh with 2:50 left in the opening half. A three-point play by sophomore forward Desmond Marks and a layup by Nowicki gave the Panthers a 34-31 halftime edge.
The second half was filled with six ties and both teams managed to pull ahead by no more than five points. The latest tie, 57-57, came with 1:18 remaining when Hanover forward Brian Gunter made a pressure-packed three-point field goal off a pass from Bass. The Engineers worked the clock during the next possession and Gerken picked up an important offensive rebound following a missed shot. He then fed the ball to Strickland, who was streaking to the basket for the go-ahead layup, 59-57, with 53 seconds remaining.
Two free throws by Weatherford built the lead to 61-57 with 34 seconds left in the game, and a layup by Nowicki was Hanover’s final score. Strickland and Gerken hit free throws down the stretch to seal the victory, tournament title and NCAA berth.
TOURNEY TIDBITS: Rose-Hulman, the regular-season HCAC champion, has matched the most victories (24) in school history. The 1976-77 team had a 24-4 record and made the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament under legendary coach John Mutchner . . . This was the first time that Rose-Hulman has won the regular season and tournament HCAC titles . . . This was Rose-Hulman’s fourth championship game appearance and now has a 9-7 record in HCAC tournament games . . . Hanover reached the HCAC Tournament championship game for the second time in three seasons under coach Jon Miller . . . The Panthers made 5 of 17 three-point field goals after making a near-tournament record 14 long range jump shots in the semifinal victory over Transylvania University (Ky.) . . . Defiance College senior guard Logan Wolfrum and Transylvania senior forward Ethan Spurlin also earned all-HCAC Tournament honors. Spurlin was on the team for the second straight year.