RICHMOND, Indiana- The Mount St. Joseph men's basketball team went into Saturday's game in control of their own destiny. The stakes were clear, win and secure the first outright Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference title in program history. Lose and risk falling back into a three-way tie atop the league with Rose-Hulman and Hanover. Despite a valiant effort the Lions could not defeat the Quakers, who had played much better down the stretch of the season.
The Quakers jumped out to a quick lead in this one as Cezzanie Mount drilled two quick three's to get his senior day started with a bang. The Lions recovered quickly though gaining the lead fr the first time a the 15:07 mark of the first half on a three-pointer by Tyler Manaugh (Madison, IN/Madison). The Mount would not trail again in the first half, stretching their lead to 10 points with 7:08 to play. Earlham closed the first half on a 9-5 run to cut their half-time deficit to 6 points at 30-24.
The Lions would open the second half on a quick 9-2 run to stretch their lead to a game high 13 with 16:06 to go. They would maintain a sizeable advantage for the majority of the second half. With 6:07 left to go an Erik Edwards (Cincinnati, OH/Roger Bacon) layup put the Lions ahead 59-47 and the Lions seemed to be poised to close the game out. From that point on though Earlham took complete control of the action. The Quakers closed out regulation on a 19-7 capped by one of the games most pivitol plays. With 21 seconds left in regulation. As Earlham's Elijah Wilson-Thomas drove the lane down three points Andrew Finley (Cincinnati, OH/Walnut Hills) attempted to draw a charge that would have likely ended the comeback attempt. Instead Finley was called for a foul, his fifth, and Wilson-Thomas made the basket and ensuing free-throw to tie the score at 66. Edwards attempted a 15 foot jump shot with less than a 2 seconds remaining which came up short. Jake Cropper (Georgetown, OH/Georgetown) attempted a tip-in as the clock expired, on which a foul could have easily been called.
The Lions would lead early in overtime as Cropper stepped to the line and drilled two free-throws. Earlham would tie the score again on a layup. Adam Goetz (Erlanger, KY/St. Henry) drilled a three on the next possession to give the Lions the lead again. Earlham cut the lead to one, on a pair of free-throws. On the Lions next possession Edwards and Goetz ran a beautiful pick and roll, but the pass from Goetz was just a bit out of the reach of Edwards giving the ball back to the Quakers with 29 seconds on the clock. Earlham would pull ahead as Wilson-Thomas drove to the basket and laid the ball in with 5.7 seconds on the clock. Jordan Henry (Lexinton, KY/Bryan Station) drove the length of the floor and put up an elbow jumper as the clock expired a shot that would wind up wedged between the rim and backboard.
Because of the Lions loss, coupled with wins by Rose-Hulman and Hanover, three teams are able to call themselves HCAC Champions. Due to tiebreaker rules the Fightin' Engineers of Rose-Hulman will host the HCAC tournament next weekend. The Lions await the winner of the #3 vs #6 seed matchup which pits Hanover against Bluffton. The game will take place in Terre Haute, Indiana on Friday at 4:00 PM, with the winner advancing to Saturday's HCAC Championship game. Tune into msjsports.com for all of your Lions HCAC tournament coverage.