Close calls give Hanover confidence

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Wes McKinney and the Panthers have found a way to win 25 times and counting this year.  
Hanover Athletics photo

By Joe Sager 

With only one senior, the Hanover College men's basketball team may be young.

Yet, the Panthers are making their coaches and fans feel old.

That's because Hanover has put them through a stressful – but very successful – campaign. The Panthers are 25-3 and in the Sweet 16, but those following the team have needed to dig into their supply of Rolaids as nine of the team's 28 games – nearly a third – have been decided by a basket or less. Hanover has an 8-1 record in those nailbiters.

"It definitely adds more excitement," Hanover senior Corey Muchmore said. "We've definitely been on the short end of the stick a few times. We're fortunate to be on the right side this year. It definitely makes it a little stressful."

Furthermore, five of those wins were fueled by winning shots in the game's final five seconds.

*Nov. 20 – 90-89 win over John Carroll: Cam Fails hit a 3-pointer with a second left to erase an 89-87 deficit.

*Dec. 7 – 71-69 win over Transylvania (Ky.): Muchmore's layup with two seconds to go broke a 69-all tie.

*Dec. 17 – 88-86 win over Anderson: Levi Buck's layup with two seconds on the clock broke an 86-all tie.

*Feb. 1 – 70-69 win over Transylvania (Ky.): Fails swished a jumper with five seconds to play to overcome a 69-68 deficit.

*Feb. 26 – 78-76 win over Transylvania (Ky.): Muchmore's layup and free throw with five seconds to go were the difference.

"It's been a combination for us. We try to do a good job of preparing for late-game situations," Hanover coach Jon Miller said. "Probably more important, we have some players at individual positions who can make some plays late in games. We have some guys who are pretty good at taking something we draw up on a whiteboard at a timeout and then going out and executing."

The Panthers have survived some close calls, too.

*Jan. 7 – 59-58 win over Earlham: The Quakers missed a shot with three seconds to play.

*Feb. 18 – 65-64 win over Bluffton (Ohio): The Beavers had two shots to win in the final three seconds, but missed both.

*Feb. 26 – 78-76 win over Transylvania (Ky.): After Muchmore's layup and free throw, a Pioneers 3-pointer missed its mark at the buzzer in the HCAC semifinals.

"The difference between winning a close game and losing a close game is so slim. There are so many possessions throughout the game that matter and we always seem to remember the last one," Miller said. "You can get a good shot and sometimes it just doesn't go in. This year, we have a pretty confident bunch that likes to be in that situation. In the conference semifinals, we defended well, but they had a good player who got a shot off and it just rimmed out. If that ball travels another three inches – I think we'd still be a tournament team, but we probably wouldn't have hosted the first two rounds.

"You're awful thankful when things go your way."

The lone senior on the squad, Muchmore has provided leadership for the young Panthers.
Hanover Athletics photo 

The close victories have helped galvanize Hanover, which travels to Michigan to face Hope.

"It definitely helps with the confidence. When we're struggling or a team goes on a run against us, we don't feel like we're out of the game and no deficit is insurmountable," Muchmore said. "We're ready to stay in the battle. We've done it. We've been there. If we keep doing the right things, we know we'll be OK. We just play our game and not necessarily worry about the score. We've been fortunate we've come out on the right side of close games."

The Panthers weren't as successful during last year's 14-13 campaign. They were 2-3 in games decided by four points or less, which included two overtime defeats. They dropped two other overtime games as well.

"The past couple years, those games have gone the opposite way for us," Hanover junior Wes McKinney said. "Sometimes, it takes a couple years for a team to learn how to win. I think we've learned to win with poise and developed an ability to convert on defense and offense when we've needed it the most.

"Even when we've been down at halftime, we stay confident. We know we're always in the game. It's a collective group effort and we're all in it together. We're focused on one goal and I think that's helped put us over the top and close out games."

The young team has matured quickly this season. Muchmore is the only senior. Juniors Colin Smith, Buck, and McKinney, and sophomore Fails join him in the starting lineup.

"It's interesting. I enjoy the opportunity for people to look at me as a leader. Being the only senior is not something I think about. Being with the juniors, it almost feels like they are seniors with me. The juniors are just as much a part of the leadership role as I am," Muchmore said. "The junior class has been a big help for me in helping show the others what the expectation is in this program."

Hanover's players hope to send Muchmore out on a positive note.

"It's always about finding a way to get Corey one more game. It was nice to host the first two rounds on our home court to get him two more games here," McKinney said. "We want to keep our momentum rolling. We're a confident bunch. Playing in all these tight games, we know that's how games will be in March. We are confident to play in those situations. It's only going to get more difficult as the season goes on. We'll keep doing what we know how to do.

"I think we have some things to improve on; we haven't played our best. We've been fortunate to win games when we don't play well. That's what good teams do – they find a way to win," he continued. "We knew this team was good enough to get to this point. But, it was up to us to get here. We know we can go up to Hope and compete. We're not happy with just getting here. We're still hungry for more."