TERRE HAUTE —
Tied with Hanover 26-26 at halftime of the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference men's basketball championship game Saturday night, host Rose-Hulman knew it had a couple of things in its favor.
“The last three years, we've been in that situation a lot,” explained senior guard/sparkplug Jordy Martin later, “and we're pretty confident we can come back and win and take control of the game.”
Then Martin mentioned his roommate.
“When you've got the best player in the league, that helps a lot.”
Thanks to that player, senior All-American Julian Strickland, the Engineers opened the second half with a 12-1 burst, forcing two Hanover timeouts in the first 3:39, and rolled to a 70-56 win, Rose-Hulman’s third conference tournament championship in a row.
Strickland, who'd scored a quiet 11 points in the first half, stole the ball on the first possession of the second half, missing a contested layup that was followed up for a basket by Jimmy Miller.
Strickland then hit a 3-pointer, then another, then got two free throws. Miller added two baskets in a row, and after Hanover got within 40-31 it was Strickland again, throwing in a shot over his shoulder under duress, then hitting a short jumper. The Panthers were as good as buried, never closer than nine points again.
“We didn’t really play as well, but we were still in the game [at halftime],” Strickland said.
Strickland picked up his second MVP award in the past three years. “We had some mental lapses on defense, and our offense was not really great.
“But we've been through this a lot. We knew we could gather ourselves … we didn't have a doubt in our mind that we could hit [the Panthers] first, get the lead and keep it.”
“[The Panthers are] good, and [Tim] Bass lit us up [in the first half],” coach Jim Shaw said after the game. “The second half [Strickland] took it on his own back for a stretch, and sometimes that's all great players need to do.”
“[Shaw] didn't want to be too frustrated [at halftime],” Miller said. “He talked about stopping them, setting our screens better. Then we came out and Julian got a lot of momentum for us.”
Strickland finished with a game-high 26 points for the winners and was joined on the all-tournament team by Miller with 20.
“There were stretches of time when Julian needed help and we needed baskets,” Shaw pointed out later. “Jimmy made those plays. He was really good and aggressive offensively.”
“It was going in,” Miller said with a big smile after the game and a two-night tournament total of 38 points. “We had a tough first half but we kept grinding and grinding.”
Rose never led in the first 18 minutes of the game, although the score was tied seven times. Baskets by Miller and freshman Collin Wojcik gave the Engineers their first lead at 26-24, although the mercurial Bass got one of his many drives to the hoop to close out the half.
Bass, who earned all-tourney plaudits with 25 points of his own, went scoreless the first nine minutes of the second half — the decisive nine minutes — however, and Strickland was his primary defender too.
“He's real good,” Strickland said of Bass. “It's hard to stay in front of him … the second half we guarded him a lot better and made him finish over us a lot more.”
“Everybody defended,” Shaw said. “It was Julian and good team defense.”
“Defense won this game,” Martin added.
Rose now waits for the 12:30 p.m. pairing announcements Monday, although the Engineers know they'll be on the road somewhere.
“We came up short [in the NCAA Division III tournament] the last two years,” Martin pointed out. “We're definitely not satisfied … we want to make some noise.”
“This establishes a legacy,” Shaw said. “This senior class can go down as the greatest class in the history of Rose-Hulman basketball, and that's factual — more wins, two regular-season conference championships and three tournament championships.”
HANOVER (56) — Billups 2-7 1-5 5, Rieger 1-2 0-0 3, Marks 0-1 3-6 3, Bass 10-17 5-5 25, James 4-10 1-2 10, Bingham 0-0 0-0 0, Van Kleunen 4-7 0-0 8, Steinhart 1-1 0-0 2, Crabtree 0-1 0-1 0, Black 0-0 0-0 0, Muchmore 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 22-46 FG, 10-19 FT, 56 TP.
ROSE-HULMAN (70) — Strickland 8-17 7-9 26, Miller 7-9 4-4 20, Houpt 2-3 0-0 4, Duffy 0-2 4-4 4, Martin 3-4 0-0 6, Hallstein 1-3 0-1 2, Povaleri 0-0 4-7 4, Loesing 0-0 0-0 0, Dodd 0-0 0-0 0, Wojcik 2-4 0-0 4. Totals 23-42 FG, 19-25 FT, 70 TP.
Halftime score — 26-26. 3-point shooting — Hanover 2-10 (Rieger 1-1, James 1-4, Billups 0-1, Van Kluenen 0-1, Crabtree 0-1, Bass 0-2), RH 5-17 (Strickland 3-9, Miller 2-4, Martin 0-1, Wojcik 0-1, Hallstein 0-2). Total fouls — Hanover 20, RH 18. Fouled out — none. Turnovers — Hanover 9, RH 7. Rebounds — Hanover 24 (Van Kluenen 5), RH 26 (Strickland 5, Duffy 5, Miller 3, Martin 3, Hallstein 3, Povaleri 2, Houpt, Loesing, Dodd, Team 2). Assists — Hanover 9 (Bass 5), RH 11 (Martin 6, Duffy 5). Steals — Hanover 3 (Bass 2), RH 6 (Miller 2, Strickland, Duffy, Martin, Loesing). Blocks — Hanover 0, RH 0. Att — 600.
Next — Rose-Hulman (22-5) plays this coming week in the NCAA Division III tournament. Hanover finished 19-9.