MU vs ravens
The men’s basketball team triumphs over the Anderson Ravens at the HCAC Conference game.
Photo provided by MU Athletics

Men’s Basketball Team Plays Hard, Claim HCAC Conference Title

Tristen Bronaugh

During its last two games of the season, men’s basketball both won a title and, in a nail-biter, just missed the chance to advance to the second round of the HCAC tournament.

Feb. 17 Manchester men’s basketball team played their final regular season game on Feb 17, when they traveled to Anderson University. The revenge, as they had fallen short to the Ravens in their first matchup 99-97.

The implications of this game were greater than any game the Spartans had played. Not only were they seeking redemption but they were also chasing the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference (HCAC) regular season championship.

With a win, the Spartans would share the regular season title with Anderson, receive a first-round bye and host the HCAC tournament. If Manchester lost, then Anderson would be the sole champion and Manchester would have to travel for their tournament game.

How was the team’s practice leading up to the game? “It became a lot harder,” said assistant coach and senior Darvoni Christopher. “As coaches, we wanted to challenge them, because when we play Anderson at Anderson’s place sometime things won’t go our way.

Throughout the week of practice, it was obvious to the coaches that the mentality of the team had shifted. “I visually saw something in them switch and could see that they wanted to get things done so they would be ready,” Christopher said.

With a sold-out crowd at the O.C. Lewis Gymnasium, Anderson got out to a fast start, going on a 14-2 run. Their quick start continued, as Manchester continued to struggle the Ravens got their lead up to 14 points.

In the second part of the first half, the Spartans started to get into a rhythm and make shots. The Spartans cut Anderson’s lead down to just seven by halftime. Ravens led 43-36.

The second half commenced and both teams came out firing. Throughout most of the second half the game was tightly contested between the two teams going back and forth at taking the lead.

In the final 3:30 left of the game, Anderson was up 71-66. The momentum switched for the Spartans when junior Mitch Mendenhall converted on a layup while being fouled. He would make the free throw, making it a three-point basket and the score 71-69.

The Spartans continued getting defensive stops and converting on fast break opportunities, making it 73-71, Manchester. Anderson wouldn’t go away without a fight, though, and with 1:55 left in the game, the Ravens were able to tie it up, hitting two free throws.

With the time running down, everyone was on their feet watching the Spartans dribble the ball up the court. And with the shot clock winding down, the ball was passed to sophomore Bryant Smith who caught his defender with a pump fake and sunk a side step three, making the score 76-73.

The Spartans would continue their defensive prowess and shut the Ravens out for the rest of the game, winning 78-73; exacting their revenge and claiming the HCAC conference title, the program’s first regular season title since the 2010- 2011 season.

Although the moment was magical the Spartans’ celebration was short because they knew their job wasn’t over. It was back to practice on Monday as their eyes were set on the Conference tournament.

The Spartans would play Rose Hulman in the semi-final of the tournament Friday, Feb. 24. As the team prepared for the game the workload was kept light, however, the focus remained. high.

Manchester competed against Rose Hulman twice in the regular season. The first matchup was at Rose Hulman and ended 82- 79, home team. The second matchup was at Manchester which went into overtime. Rose Hulman ended up coming away with a close win, 93-92.

With two losses against Rose Hulman, what adjustments did the Spartans plan in preparation for their matchup? “We’re gonna hard hedge and get under to make it difficult, we’re gonna start fronting their bigs,” Christopher said.

In the previous two games, the Spartans had trouble defending in transition. The Spartans played a 14-15 defense where they switched the one through five positions and the one through four. Heading into the final matchup with Rose they switched to a man-to-man defense.

What helps the team stay focused? “We have to let them know that on any given night you can get beat,” Christopher said. “You can have the best players and the best staff, but if you don’t come ready to practice, not in games, but in practice you can get beat.”

On Friday, Feb. 24, Manchester students and faculty filled the Stauffer Wolf Arena to watch the Spartans take on the Fightin’ Engineers of Rose Hulman. From the moment the game tipped off the crowd was roaring.

The two teams went back and forth throughout the entirety of the first half. Both teams showed off excellent defense. As the first half ended the Spartans went into the locker room with a two-point lead, outscoring Rose Hulman 33-31. The Spartans shot 47% from the field, while Rose Hulman shot 38%.

As the second half commenced, the Engineers came out fighting. Rose Hulman started to hit their shots and gain the lead. With five minutes left in the half, Rose Hulman had got their lead up to 11.

The Spartans continued to fight. With time running down, sophomore Quentez Columbus hit two back-to-back threes, making it 62-57, reducing Rose Hulman’s lead and forcing them to call a time-out. The Fightin’ Engineers quickly responded on the other end by getting a layup off just before the shot clock expired.

The Spartans marched down the court and sophomore Ty Lynas was able to knock down a quick three, making it 64-60 with 1:27 left in the half.

The Engineers responded by knocking down two free throws after getting to the free-throw line after being fouled, making it 66-60.

On the next possession, the Spartans were able to quickly transition up the court. Columbus went up for a layup and was fouled in the process, still making the shot. He knocked down his free throws and made it 66-63.

As the clock wound down, Rose Hulman made their way down the court. With ten seconds left Manchester was able to get a stop and call time out.

After the time-out, Manchester ran onto the court. As they passed the ball the crowd began to count down. The Spartans quickly got down the court and shot three. The ball bounced off the rim and into the hands of the Spartans and was passed back out for another shot. As the ball was released, the clock hit zero, and the gym went quiet as they watched the ball travel in the air.

The ball hit the back of the rim and bounced out, the final score being 66-63 Rose Hulman.

Rose Hulman would compete against Anderson in the final and lose 73-55.

Although the Spartans were not able to continue their season the team’s accolades shouldn’t be glossed over.

Head Coach Nate Conley received HCAC Coach of the Year. Sophomore Logan Willoughby was named first-team all-conference. Sophomores Zach Sawyer and Bryant Smith were both named second-team all-conference, and sophomore Quentez Columbus received an honorable mention.

The Spartans finished the season 16-10 and 11-4 in conference play.