Terre Haute, Ind. – Gabe Schmitt was the final hero for the Transylvania men's basketball team in Saturday afternoon's 83-79 clutch victory over the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology Fightin' Engineers at Hulbert Arena.
The Pioneers held off a voracious Engineer squad down the stretch with a "bend-but-don't-break" final five minutes scoring a series of critical field goals, punctuated with Schmitt's game-sealing 3-pointer and four free throws inside the final 30 seconds.
The senior paced all players with 25 points, including seven in the final 26 seconds to seize the victory for the Pioneers.
Transylvania evened its Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference record to 4-4 and its overall record to 8-7, picking up its second road win of the HCAC slate. Rose-Hulman fell to 4-4 in the HCAC and 7-8 overall with the loss as the teams joined a four-way tie for fourth place in the conference standings.
Prior to the sizzling final five minutes, Saturday's affair featured a symphony of one-sided runs. Michael Jefferson powered the Pioneers to eight of their first 10 points as the Pioneers led 6-2 four minutes into the contest. The Engineers tied the game with back-to-back field goals before the Pioneers went on a 9-0 run, highlighted by a 3-pointer from Zach Larimore and a fastbreak layup by Will Sivills for a 15-6 Pioneer advantage.
Rose-Hulman scored five unanswered points before the Pioneers went on an 8-0 run via consecutive 3-pointers by Schmitt to give the visitors their largest lead of the day at 23-11. Rose-Hulman quickly erased the lead with their own 11-0 run, thinning Transylvania's lead to 23-22 with six and a half minutes to go in the first period before Larimore struck back on a three.
Spencer McKinney hit a triple to put the Pioneers ahead, 34-29 before Rose-Hulman closed the half on a 15-6 run to take a 44-40 lead.
The Pioneers mirrored their first-half start with a 6-1 run to clinch a 46-45 lead after Jefferson stymied the Engineers with a runner. The pendulum swung back to the Engineers with a layup and a trey for a 50-46 lead.
The deficit spiked a 10-0 run for Transylvania as Brandon Cromwell and Larimore each splashed home 3-pointers, and Schmitt followed with back-to-back buckets for a 56-50 Transylvania lead with 15 minutes left. The script was written as the Engineers went on a 6-0 run for a tie game at 56-all.
Both sides jousted evenly over the next five and a half minutes as the Pioneers squeezed a 65-63 lead out of the fracas with 6:58 remaining. Lucas Gentry boosted the Pioneers to a necessary cushion for their final act as the junior buried consecutive 3-pointers for a 71-63 lead at the 5:37 mark.
The Engineers scored twice before Cromwell hit a jumpshot with 3:40 to go, buffering the Pioneers at 73-67. Rose-Hulman continued to gnaw at Transylvania as its star guard Craig McGee scored a layup to bring the home team within three at 73-70 with 2:24 left in regulation.
Larimore came up with another critical moment as the sophomore hit a layup and was fouled, converting a three-point play for a 76-70 lead inside two minutes to go. Rose-Hulman answered back with a triple just seven seconds later and the Pioneers' lead was once again down to three.
The Pioneers had two chances at a 3-point bucket thanks to a McKinney offensive rebound, but each attempt went errant. Rose-Hulman took advantage with a layup with 51 seconds remaining to close the Pioneer lead to 76-75.
Schmitt rose to the occasion, delivering his final 3-pointer of the game with 26 seconds left to put the Pioneers ahead 79-75. The senior's bucket proved crucial as McGee answered within 10 seconds with a 3-pointer of his own to slice Transylvania's advantage to one.
Not yet in the bonus, the Pioneers endured two fouls but were able to extinguish eight seconds while the Engineers tallied up fouls as Schmitt broke away from the defense with the ball and was sent to the line. Schmitt robotically buried both to raise the Pioneer lead to 81-78.
Transylvania played the numbers and fouled Rose-Hulman's Vuk Djuric with three seconds to go, who then hit the first free throw and purposely missed the second. The Pioneers earned possession, and Schmitt buried both free throws to put the game away.
Schmitt shot 9 for 17 from the field, hitting 3 of 5 treys on the afternoon. Larimore added 17 points and nine rebounds off the bench, adding two assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the floor. Jefferson finished the day with 15 points, six rebounds, five assists, and three steals while Cromwell added 10 points, four rebounds, and one steal.
The Pioneers outscored the Engineers 25-14 in points off turnovers while winning the turnover margin by four.
Transylvania will wrap up the first half of conference play on Wednesday, January 22 against the Mount St. Joseph University Lions at home. Tip-off between the Pioneers and Lions is set for 7:30 p.m. from the Beck Center in Lexington.
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