TERRE HAUTE, Ind. -- The Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology men's basketball team took its first lead in over 23 minutes with 1:23 left on the clock and then shut down the Defiance College offense to clinch a key 58-54 Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference victory Saturday at Hulbert Arena.
The Fightin' Engineers (14-4, 10-2 HCAC) take over sole possession of first place in the conference with Saturday's victory over the Yellow Jackets (14-5, 9-3), who entered the contest tied with RHIT in the league standings.
RHIT senior Alec Houpt (Chesterton, Ind./Chesterton) drained a tough turnaround jumper outside the lane to give Rose-Hulman a 53-52 lead -- its first since the 5:45 mark of the first half -- after the Engineers trailed by as many as seven (46-39) with 8:05 to play.
Houpt then followed the play with a steal via a Tyler Duffy (Fishers, Ind./Hamilton Southeastern) deflection to give the ball back to the Engineers with less than a minute left in regulation. Defiance would get the ball back with 13.4 seconds left and a chance to win or tie, but Duffy came up with the steal and was fouled to send him to the charity stripe.
He made 1-of-2 free throws and senior Julian Strickland (Indianapolis, Ind./Pike) made two free throws of his own after a Defiance technical foul to push the lead to four, 56-52, with 7.1 seconds to play. Strickland would hit two more from the stripe with 1.2 seconds left to seal the victory.
Strickland led the Engineers with 14 points and four assists, Jimmy Miller (Indianapolis, Ind./North Central) added 13 points, four rebounds and three assists, and Houpt finished with 10 points and six rebounds.
Defiance led by four, 27-23, at the half, behind 12 points from the Yellow Jacket's leading scorer, Ryan Hicks. He was held to just four points in the second half.
Despite a Miller dunk -- via a Jordy Martin (New Albany, Ind./New Albany) lob pass -- the Yellow Jackets took a seven-point lead, 46-39, with a Wade Wooley bucket. But Martin responded with a triple from the top of the key, Strickland buried a jumper, and Miller added a tough reverse layup to cut Defiance's lead to two, 48-46 (5:05).
After a Yellow Jackets jumper, Martin drained his second 3 of the game to bring the Engineers within one, 50-49. Duffy made two free throws and then Martin forced a Defiance turnover to set up Houpt's turnaround hook shot with 1:23 left.
Duffy dished out a game-high five assists and finished with nine points, while Martin had six points.
The Engineers shot 47.8 percent (22-of-46) for the game, compared to 50 percent (24-of-48) by Defiance. RHIT also edged the Yellow Jackets on rebounds, 26-23 and won the turnover battle, committing just three giveaways compared to six for Defiance.
Hicks led the Yellow Jackets with 16 points and Bernard Edwards added 13 points in the loss.
Rose-Hulman returns to the court Wednesday, when the Engineers travel to Earlham College for a 7:30 p.m. contest in Richmond. Saturday's victory completed a regular-season sweep over Defiance, as RHIT won in Defiance, 58-57, Jan. 11.
The Engineers have a one-game lead over the Yellow Jackets in the HCAC standings with six conference games remaining. Rose-Hulman also leads Hanover and Mount St. Joseph by two games each after a pair of upsets in HCAC play on Saturday.