AIR DEFENSE: Hanover senior Drake Hendricks leaps high to hinder a pass while defending Rose-Hulman’s Nate Gissentanner during Saturday’s HCAC showdown at Collier Arena. Rose-Hulman rallied from 12 down to win the game and claim the HCAC regular-season title. Hanover will be the No. 2 seed in the upcoming conference tournament in Terre Haute . (Staff photo by David Campbell)
AIR DEFENSE: Hanover senior Drake Hendricks leaps high to hinder a pass while defending Rose-Hulman’s Nate Gissentanner during Saturday’s HCAC showdown at Collier Arena. Rose-Hulman rallied from 12 down to win the game and claim the HCAC regular-season title. Hanover will be the No. 2 seed in the upcoming conference tournament in Terre Haute . (Staff photo by David Campbell)
Rose-Hulman rallied from 12 points down midway through the second half on Saturday to hand Hanover its first home loss of the season and win the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference men's basketball regular-season title.

The 18th-ranked Engineers trailed 40-28 with 14:22 left in the game but quickly lived up to their lofty ranking. Riding a perfect shooting night from the floor by junior Julian Strickland, Rose-Hulman ripped off a 21-5 run to seize the lead and never look back en route to the 59-57 win.

Hanover stayed close and got a 3-pointer by Drake Hendricks with three seconds left and caught a break when Strickland missed the front-end of a one-and-one free throw. But with no timeouts, the Panthers only got a desperation half-court shot from Kyle James that fell short.

"When you play 18 conference games you get a pretty good idea of who the best team in the conference truly is," Hanover coach Jon Miller said. "Rose-Hulman has proved that they are the best team in our league."

Rose-Hulman (22-3, 16-2 HCAC) will be the No. 1 seed in this week's HCAC tournament and will host the semifinals and championship beginning Friday. Hanover (17-8, 14-4 HCAC) will be the No. 2 seed and earned a bye into the semifinals.

Hanover had every chance to steal the No. 1 seed from Rose and did so despite shooting only 33.9 percent (19-for-56) from the floor. The Panthers stayed in the game by forcing 17 turnovers on the defensive end and riding the emotional momentum from the ejection of Hanover sophomore Tim Bass.

Bass, the 5-foot-5 dynamo from Indianapolis, picked up his first technical foul for language in the first half and was hit with a quick second technical just four minutes into the second half for apparently the same thing.

Bass' ejection cost the Panthers of their second-leading scorer, top assist man and top defender but Hanover seemed to feed off the emotion of the disqualification.

The Panthers led 30-25 at the time of Bass' technical after trailing by two at halftime. Rose-Hulman managed only one point off the ensuing free throws and possession and Hanover was off to the races.

Ryan Nowicki drilled a jumper and, after a Rose turnover, Hendricks threw down a dunk in transition to push Hanover's lead to eight (34-26) with 15:44 left in the game.

A Rose timeout did nothing to stem the momentum. Moments later, Nowicki hit a 3-pointer to push the lead to 11.

Austin Weatherford broke the run for Rose-Hulman with a layup but Kyle James answered with another Hanover 3-pointer to give the Panthers their largest lead of the night, 40-28, with 14:22 left to play.

Miller downplayed the emotion from Bass' ejection as motivation for the Panthers' big run.

"I think we were rolling pretty good before that happened," Miller said. "I think we just expended too much energy on the defensive end. Rose is a very good team and it took a lot of us staying with them."

It was Strickland who got the Engineers started on their final push. The 6-foot-3 swingman from Indianapolis Pike was 9-for-9 from the floor, including 4-for-4 on 3-pointers for a game-high 26 points. The only knock on Strickland's afternoon was a 4-for-7 performance from the foul line.

Strickland hit a short jumper to end Hanover's run and teammate Jordy Martin followed with a layup to pull Rose to within eight.

Brian Gunter hit a 3-pointer for Hanover to push the lead back to 11 but over the next seven minutes the game belonged to the Engineers.

Nate Gissentanner answered Gunter's trey with a basket and moments later, Strickland hit the first of back-to-back 3-pointers to whittle the lead to three.

Rose-Hulman took the lead for good at 47-45 on a Weatherford jumper with 6:42 to play and went up by as many as six before Hanover clawed back into the game.

The Panthers would have had a chance at victory had they been better from the 3-point line. Rose-Hulman forced Hanover into 27 attempts from behind the arc and the Panthers responded by hitting only six.

"Rose is a very good defensive team and they force you into bad shots," Miller said. "We're a good shooting team but we weren't always in the best positions."

Rose-Hulman ended up shooting nearly 50 percent from the floor, going 24-for-50 after hitting 14-for-26 (53.8 percent) in the second half. The Engineers also struggled from long range, with everybody other than Strickland combining to go 0-for-10.

Nowicki scored 18 points and had six rebounds in his final home game at Hanover while sophomore center Desmond Marks had 12 points and nine rebounds. Hendricks finished with 10 points.

The loss ended Hanover's four-game win streak and was the team's first setback at home this season in 12 games. The Panthers will now try to extend their season with a run in the HCAC tournament.

"Rose is the best team in our league and I was just happy that we got a chance to even play for the championship," Miller said. "But the tournament is a new season and anything can happen in these kinds of situations. I think we're going to be ready to play and I think we're going to have a good weekend."

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SATURDAY'S MEN'S GAME

at Hanover

No. 18 ROSE-HULMAN 59,

HANOVER 57



ROSE-HULMAN (22-3, 16-2 HCAC) - (g)Strickland 26, (g)Weatherford 13, (f)Gerken 8, Gissentanner 8, Martin 2, Houpt 2, (f)Balsbaugh 0, (g)Pillischafske 0.



HANOVER (17-8, 14-4 HCAC) - (g)Nowicki 18, (f)Marks 12, (g)Hendricks 10, (f)Gunter 5, (g)Bass 5, James 5, Van Kleunen 2, Wehner 0, Steinhart 0, Bingham 0.



Halftime - Rose-Hulman 23-21. 3-Point Goals - Rose-Hulman 4 (Strickland 4), Hanover 6 (Hendricks 2, Gunter 1, Bass 1, Nowicki 1, James 1). Rebounds - Rose-Hulman 34 (Gissentanner 8), Hanover 31 (Marks 9). Assists - Rose-Hulman 8 (Weatherford 4), Hanover 8 (James 3). Turnovers - Rose-Hulman 17, Hanover 10. Total Fouls - Rose-Hulman 16, Hanover 16. Free Throws - Rose-Hulman 7-14, Hanover 13-15. Fouled Out - None. Technical Fouls - Hanover: Bass (2). Ejected - Hanover: Bass. Next Game - Both teams play in the HCAC Tournament at Rose-Hulman on Friday: Rose-Hulman hosts the Franklin-Defiance winner; Hanover plays the Mount St. Joseph-Transylvania winner in Terre Haute.