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December 16, 2012

Gerken hits game-winner to put Rose-Hulman at 9-1 on season

Engineers unbeaten at 4-0 after topping Hanover

TERRE HAUTE — Making the game-winning shot, with what turned out to be seven-tenths of a second to go, was probably the easy part for Jon Gerken on Saturday afternoon in Hulbert Arena.

The Rose-Hulman senior forward was in a wrestling match for position with Hanover’s Brian Gunter before the ball was even being in-bounded near the Engineer bench. When Gunter slipped between Gerken and the ball, however, Gerken quickly sealed his defender, took an over-the-top pass from Nate Gissentanner and laid the ball in among three defenders to give the Engineers a 62-61 win.

A hard-fought win? Oh my yes.

“That was a war. That was a battle,” coach Jim Shaw said after his Engineers had remained unbeaten in Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference play and improved to 9-1 for the season. “I told our guys it was a battle of attrition; it would take effort and poise to the last second, because [the Panthers] really compete, and they’re really good.”

Rose didn’t take the lead until the midpoint of the second half, and never led by more than two points. Hanover had the second-highest point total an Engineer opponent has scored — Rose entered the game best in NCAA Division III in points allowed — and showed its own prowess on the defensive end, limiting the Engineers to two points in the first 11:36 of the game.

Julian Strickland finally got the second Rose basket with 8:24 left in the opening half, cutting the Hanover lead to 13-4, and shortly thereafter Rose scored on seven straight possessions to get within 26-22.

Tiny point guard Tim Bass of the visitors got the last five points of the first half, though, and Rose was still 11 points behind when Austin Weatherford found himself with a hot hand.

Limited by foul trouble in the first half, Weatherford had scored five early points in the second period. Then he hit back-to-back off-balance 3-pointers that cut the lead to 42-37, missed a runner from the lane that Gerken followed up for a basket, then hit another 3-pointer with 12:08 to play. Weatherford missed the free throw for a four-point play and a Rose-Hulman lead, but still the score was tied for the first time in the game.

“The first half, [the Panthers] took it to us, made us do things we don’t want to do,” Weatherford said after the game. “The second half we wanted to be aggressive and play with some confidence.”

As far as his own hot streak was concerned, Weatherford added, “Your teammates are going to get you the ball when you’re hitting like that … we’ve been playing with each other for awhile; whoever’s shooting well, we get them the ball.”

Hanover broke that tie 20 seconds later on a three-point play by Ryan Nowicki, but Strickland answered for Rose, then got the assist on a 3-pointer by Gissentanner that put the home team ahead for the first time with 8:01 to play.

Neither team led by more than a basket for almost four minutes, but with the game tied at 55 the Engineers made their first three turnovers on the second half on successive possessions, and Hanover scored each time. As the clock ticked under two minutes, Rose was suddenly behind by six.

“Fatigue had a little to do with [those turnovers],” Shaw said later, “and [Hanover’s] defense had a lot to do with that.”

With a little over a minute left, however, Weatherford found Gerken in the corner and Gerken made his only 3-pointer of the game to cut the lead to 61-58.

Weatherford knocked the ball free at the other end, Hanover committed a foul, and Weatherford assisted on Strickland’s inside basket with 17 seconds left.

After a timeout, the Rose press forced an errant in-bounds pass to give the Engineers the ball back. Weatherford nearly lost the ball five seconds later, but was saved by a timeout as he stumbled toward the out-of-bounds line. Weatherford and Bass collided with about five seconds to go, the ball going out of bounds and awarded again to Rose. And then came the final play.

“It was a great play call, a great pass by Nate … things went together perfectly,” Gerken summarized afterward.

Despite the in-your-face defense by both teams all game long, the combined shooting percentage was actually 50 percent. Rose shot 64 percent from the field in the second half and hit 7 of 11 3-point attempts.

“For us to shoot 48 percent [for the game] and have just 11 turnovers against a very good defense shows we made some plays,” Shaw said.

As for Hanover, which shot 52 percent for the game, the Engineer coach added, “They shredded us. We couldn’t guard ‘em … they have a lot of guys who are difficult to guard.”

Weatherford led the winners with 16 points while Strickland added 12 and freshman Jimmy Miller — the biggest offensive spark of the first half — had 10. Gerken scored nine, and he and Brenton Balsbaugh combined for 15 rebounds.

Bass had 16 points and Nowicki 15 for the Panthers.

“This was a great win,” Shaw added, “and a lot of that is because of my respect for how good Hanover is.”

“I’m really happy the way [the season] is going,” said Weatherford. “We’ll just keep working and keep improving every day.”

“Conference play is just beginning,” Gerken noted. “We’ve got to bring it every night; there won’t be any easy games. But these are the games that are fun; these are the reason you put in two hours of practice every day.”

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