Lexington, Ky. – Behind 42 combined points from its two leading scorers and clutch stops on defense in crunch time, the Transylvania men's basketball team seized a 70-65 win over the Hanover College Panthers on Wednesday night at the Beck Center.
The Pioneers improved to 12-5 in the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference standings with one game left in the regular season to maintain a first-place tie with Franklin College, which also emerged victorious against Mount St. Joseph on Wednesday to force a 12-5 record of its own.
Both Transy and Franklin will vie for a share of the HCAC regular-season crown on Saturday in their season finales; if both teams win on Saturday against their respective opponents, the Pioneers would clinch the conference's number-one seed in next week's HCAC Tournament via tiebreaker. If both teams lose on Saturday, a three-way tie would occur between Franklin, Transylvania and Bluffton for first place.
The Pioneers improved to 16-8 on the season overall while Hanover fell two games back of the Pioneers in the conference standings to 10-7 and 16-8 overall.
In the second clash of the season between the Pioneers and Panthers, Transylvania opened up a 25-15 lead in a fast-paced slog where defense reigned. Jefferson was fouled on a runner and Luke Schroeder dropped in a short-range bucket to build the double-digit lead.
Hanover got on track offensively with eight straight points to slice the Pioneer lead to 25-23 with 5:36 to go in the half before a Brandon Cromwell runner stifled the outburst. The Panthers answered right back with an old-fashioned three-point play and a modern one to claim their first lead of the game at 29-27.
Gabe Schmitt lit his torch with three straight field goals to put the Pioneers up by four points with two minutes remaining in the half. Spencer McKinney and the Panthers' Kevin Williams traded baskets in the final half-minute of play, giving way to a 36-33 Transylvania halftime lead.
Hanover broke out on a 6-0 run to begin the second half before the Pioneers countered with two straight scores to retake the lead at 40-39. Hanover punched back with a three-pointer at the 15:06 mark of the second half to build a thin cushion that the visitors would maintain until three minutes to go in the ballgame. Though the Panthers kept the lead for an approximately 12-minute stretch, the Pioneers held onto the rope, never allowing the Panther lead to grow larger than five points throughout the reign.
The constant hammering by the Pioneers finally struck a blow with under four minutes left in regulation: Zach Larimore sank a turnaround jumper to cut the Hanover lead to 60-59. On the ensuing play, Jefferson anticipated an errant crosscourt pass for a steal and raced to the cup where he was fouled on a highlight-reel contorting layup for a three-point play and a 62-60 Transylvania lead with 2:50 left.
Following a Hanover timeout, the Panthers took the lead on a threeball with 2:29 remaining in the game, but Schmitt surfaced again, hitting two free throws after being hit on a jump shot. Schmitt scored again on the following possession, placing the Pioneers ahead at 66-63 with 1:16 to go.
Williams struck one more time for Hanover on a mid-range jumper with 59 seconds to go and Schmitt missed a fallaway three as the shot clock wound down and the Pioneers clung to a 66-65 advantage. But the Pioneers held firm on defense, hounding Williams into a pair of missed jump shots inside the final 15 seconds. Jefferson corralled a final clutch rebound and drained both free throws to give the Pioneers a 68-65 lead with eight seconds remaining.
Transylvania sent Hanover's Isaac Hibbard to the line with under two seconds left in a clock-chopping effort, and Hibbard obliged by missing a free throw on the front end of the one-and-one opportunity. Schroeder canned two final free throws to seal the win for Transylvania and keep the Pioneers in pole position with Franklin in the HCAC standings.
Jefferson added a co-game-high nine rebounds as the Pioneers and Panthers each snared 30 boards apiece. Jefferson and Cromwell each came up with two steals each.
The Pioneers shot 45 percent from the floor and 6 for 18 from three-point range with McKinney, Schmitt, and Lucas Gentry each sinking a pair of triples. Hanover shot 52 percent from the floor but the Pioneers held an eight-point differential in free throws made.
Transylvania returned the favor to Hanover for a 90-80 road loss on January 15 in the first meeting of the regular season between the two as they split the regular-season series at 1-1.
The Pioneers will close out their 2020 regular season on Saturday, February 22 with a deciding game against the Bluffton University Beavers, who enter Saturday's contest one game back of the Pioneers and Franklin in the HCAC standings. The regular-season finale, which will determine the HCAC regular-season champion, will also serve as Transylvania's senior-day game and tip-off at 4:00 p.m. from the Beck Center following Senior Day ceremonies for McKinney and Schmitt.
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