Hanover’s Kyle James (above, left), V.J. Billups (middle) and Tim Bass celebrate toward the end of the Panthers’ 67-62 win over league-leader Rose-Hulman on Wednesday. Billups’ block on the Engineers’ Julian Strickland in the closing seconds (below) capped the win. The win catapulted the Panthers into a four-way tie atop the HCAC standings. (Staff photos by David Campbell)
Hanover’s Kyle James (above, left), V.J. Billups (middle) and Tim Bass celebrate toward the end of the Panthers’ 67-62 win over league-leader Rose-Hulman on Wednesday. Billups’ block on the Engineers’ Julian Strickland in the closing seconds (below) capped the win. The win catapulted the Panthers into a four-way tie atop the HCAC standings. (Staff photos by David Campbell)
Hanover sprinted out to a big first half lead then survived a late rally to post a 67-62 men's basketball win over conference front-runner Rose-Hulman Wednesday at Collier Arena.

The Panthers led 41-25 at halftime and by as many as 18 early in the second half before Rose-Hulman began chipping away. The Engineers cut the lead to three with 32 seconds to play but Kyle James' two free throws and a big block by V.J. Billups secured the win.

The victory snapped Rose-Hulman's overall nine-game win streak and a five-game win streak against Hanover. But more importantly, it moved the Panthers into a four-way tie for first place in the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference along with Rose, Mount St. Joseph and Defiance.

"We talked leading up to the game about how playing with emotion was not going to be enough to win this game. It was really going to be about executing," Hanover coach Jon Miller said. "I thought we got some good leadership out of some guys, some great leadership out of Kyle James, who kept us even-keeled and kept us focused on that next possession. I think to beat teams of Rose's caliber you have to be able to do that."

Hanover (11-5, 7-2 HCAC) may not have relied on emotion but the Panthers were hardly laid back in an impressive first-half performance.

Rose-Hulman (12-4, 7-2 HCAC) led 7-6 early before Hanover ripped off a 10-0 run to take the lead. The Panthers then got hotter as the first half wore on, eventually pushing the lead to 16 (41-25) at the half on a three-point play by 6-foot-5 freshman center Corey Muchmore.

Hanover shot nearly 60 percent (16-for-27) from the floor in the first half and hit half of its six 3-point attempts. Rose-Hulman's shooting was hardly cold - hitting 10-of-22 (45.5 percent) - but the Engineers couldn't seem to stop the Panther train.

Hanover seemed poised to blow open the game after Jacob Rieger opened the second half with a lay-up to put the Panthers up 43-25. But Rose-Hulman responded and the defending league champs quickly carved into the Hanover lead.

Junior Corey Povaleri, a 2011 Madison graduate, hit two baskets and reigning HCAC Player of the Year, Julian Strickland, knocked down a lay-up to pull Rose-Hulman to within seven. A Hanover turnover followed by two Tyler Duffy free throws cut the Panther lead to just five (51-46) with just under 12 minutes to play.

But Hanover never folded. The Panthers' Ethan Black stopped the run with a jumper, Michael Van Kleunen and Rieger each hit a free throw and Kyle James hit a jumper to put Hanover back on top by 10 (57-47). After a Strickland free throw, James pushed the lead to 11 with a lay-up.

Rose-Hulman had one final rally. New Albany's Jordy Martin knocked down a 3-pointer with 32 seconds left to pull the Engineers to within three at 65-62. James hit a pair of free throws on the other end to push the lead back to five with 21 seconds left.

On the next possession, Strickland drove to the basket but Billups was right there to knock the ball away. A turnover on the next possession ended the Engineers' hopes of completing the comeback.

Heroes abounded for Hanover in the win. James, a 6-foot junior from Indianapolis, had his first career double-double with 12 points and a career-high 12 rebounds while Rieger, a 6-foot-4 senior from Cold Springs, Ky., had a career-high 14 points. Billups, a 6-foot-3 freshman from Jeffersonville, and Van Kleunen, a 6-foot-5 sophomore from Mason, Ohio, scored 12 points each.

"I think the stat that stands out to me is Kyle James with 12 rebounds," Miller said. "He and Rieger have emerged as leaders for us and he showed a lot of toughness with going in and just getting the ball. Rieger not only scored and even though Strickland finished with 27, I thought his defense on Julian was pretty doggone good. We got big minutes from Van Kluenen, particularly in the first half, and then he scores late on a feed from Tim (Bass). Just a great team effort. I'm just proud of our young men."

The win came less than a week after sophomores Matt Wehner and Quincy Robinson were dismissed from the team for disciplinary reasons. Miller said he was proud of the way his team has responded during what has been a difficult time.

"We went through a little adversity and we had some guys make some really selfish decisions that are no longer with us," Miller said. "I think that's had a way of really bringing our guys together ... I'm the coach, but it's (the players') team. We're starting to get some leadership out of some guys and we're starting to see some guys do some things that indicate that they want to be teammates with each other. As a coach, certainly you're happy with wins, but you're happy to see a team respond that way."

With half of the conference season in the books, there is a logjam at the top with Hanover, Defiance, Rose-Hulman and Mount St. Joseph all tied at 7-2. The Panthers' next two games will be at Defiance on Saturday and at home against Mount next Wednesday.

While Miller acknowledges there is still a long season ahead, the next few games will be crucial to his team's post-season success.

"Clearly we have our work cut out for us. We're going to take it one game at a time," Miller said. "We're at the halfway point and we've put ourselves in a position and it's kind of like at The Master's where Saturday is 'Moving Day.' We're entering the stretch run and I really like our team."

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WEDNESDAY'S MEN'S GAME

at Hanover

HANOVER 67, ROSE-HULMAN 62



ROSE-HULMAN (12-4, 7-2 HCAC) - (g)Strickland 27, (f)Miller 12, (f)Duffy 6, Povaerli 5, (f)Houpt 4, (g)Martin 4, Wojcik 2, Hallstein 2, Stallings 0, Loesing 0.

HANOVER (11-5, 7-2 HCAC) - (f)Rieger 14, (f)Billups 12, (g)James 12, Van Kleunen 12, (g)Bass 7, (c)Muchmore 5, Black 5, Crabtree 0, Steinhart 0, Bingham 0.



Halftime - Hanover 41-25. 3-Point Goals - Rose-Hulman 4 (Strickland 3, Martin 1), Hanover 3 (Billups 1, Rieger 1, Black 1). Rebounds - Rose-Hulman 25 (Miller 6), Hanover 28 (James 12). Assists - Rose-Hulman 10 (Strickland 3, Martin 3), Hanover 8 (Bass 4). Turnovers - Rose-Hulman 14, Hanover 13. Total Fouls - Rose-Hulman 18, Hanover 16. Free Throws - Rose-Hulman 14-21, Hanover 10-16. Fouled Out - None. Next Game - Rose-Hulman hosts Transylvania Saturday. Hanover visits Defiance Saturday.