North Manchester, Ind. – Junior Gabe Schmitt had the final word as he knocked down a game-winning three-pointer with 0.2 seconds remaining in the Transylvania men's basketball team's 74-73 win over the Manchester University Spartans Saturday afternoon at Stauffer-Wolfe Arena.
Schmitt scored 19 points on Saturday, but it was his final triple which proved to be the pivotal dagger in a back-and-forth final five and a half minutes which witnessed eight lead changes over that stretch.
The scintillating win lifted the Pioneers to 13-8 on the season and 10-4 in Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference play while the Spartans fell to 9-11 overall, and 6-7 in HCAC play.
Transylvania now stands in a tie for second place with Rose-Hulman in the HCAC standings with four games remaining in the regular season; the Pioneers hold the tiebreaker over Rose-Hulman by virtue of sweeping the regular-season series.
Sophomore guard Michael Jefferson helped propel the Pioneers to the photo finish with a team-high 22 points, six rebounds, and two assists in 32 minutes.
The Pioneers began the game on fire, assembling a lead which put them ahead of the Spartans for most of first 34 minutes of the day by knocking down their first seven field goal attempts of the afternoon. Using a 9 for 10 start from the floor, Transylvania took a 24-14 lead on a Jefferson runner with 10 minutes left in the half.
Manchester jabbed back with an 11-0 run to take a one-point lead with 7:13 remaining in the first half, but Schmitt began gathering his rhythm for the day with a pair of jumpers to put the Pioneers back in front.
Jefferson took over the scoring load to round out the first half, getting to the line and hitting a pair of charity shots to hand the Pioneers back a 34-33 advantage. Sophomore guard Devin Twenty splashed home a straightaway 3-ball to send the visitors to halftime with a 37-33 lead.
Transylvania capitalized upon their solid first-half finish with a 5-0 start to the second half as the Pioneers surged ahead, 42-33. Manchester inched back within four points multiple times but the Pioneers continued to keep the Spartans at arms' length over the next 10 minutes.
The Spartans had success attacking the basket as the second half continued, using a succession of layups to take a 61-60 lead on Transy with 5:28 remaining in regulation. From that point on, the contest became a game of lead changes and revolving heroes from both sides.
Junior guard Spencer McKinney came up clutch with back-to-back scores, including a right corner three-pointer to put the Pioneers in front, 65-64 with 3:25 to go. Manchester countered with a pair of layups to claim a 68-65 advantage at the 2:19 mark.
The Pioneers amped up their flair for the dramatic as Jefferson carved inside for a runner on the next possession, cutting Manchester's lead back to a point. Twenty took over with a dynamite possession, procuring a backcourt steal to return possession to Transylvania. After McKinney missed a three-point attempt, Twenty grabbed the offensive rebound and was fouled, sending the sophomore to the free-throw line where he hit two free throws to put Transy up, 69-68 with 1:34 remaining.
Manchester marched down the floor and scored another layup, but Jefferson responded with and and-one score with 57 seconds left in regulation to give the Pioneers a 71-70 lead. Despite missing the free throw, senior guard Cooper Theobald swooped in for a clutch offensive rebound, allowing the Pioneers another possession.
Transylvania manufactured one more three-point attempt, but McKinney's launch fell short and Manchester reclaimed possession with 31 seconds left.
The Spartans' Adrian Johnson eventually ended up with the basketball and dribbled into his desired spot, rising for a go-ahead three-pointer from the right wing with 2.6 seconds to go in regulation, giving Manchester a 73-71 lead and what appeared to be the finishing touches upon a thrilling win.
The Pioneers then patiently manufactured what transpired into a thrilling last-second moment.
From 94 feet away, Transylvania inbounded the ball to Theobald at midcourt and the Pioneers quickly called for time once more in order to trigger another inbound pass from a more favorable angle.
On the ensuing inbound, Schmitt slipped free into the left corner uninhibited, catching a rifled pass from Jefferson on the opposite side and released a clean look which splashed home with 0.2 seconds to go. Manchester's final inbound glanced off the fingers of sophomore forward Dominique Turner, giving the Pioneers an improbable victory.
Schmitt hit 3 of 7 three-pointers for the Pioneers, providing relief from outdoors for Transylvania on a day the team shot just 6-for-21 from the three-point line as a whole. McKinney was the other double-digit scorer for Transylvania, adding 10 points, seven rebounds, one assist, one steal, and one block off the bench.
The Pioneers held command of the boards, outrebounding Manchester 41-30.
Transylvania returns home on Wednesday, February 6 to take on the Mount St. Joseph University Lions. The 7:30 p.m. tip-off marks the second meeting of the season following the Lions' 65-62 victory over the Pioneers on January 9.
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