With 6.6 seconds left on the clock, Kevin Christie (Dayton/Bishop Fenwick) was at the foul line with a chance to take the lead against his former school and current Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference leading team, the Hanover (Indiana) College Panthers (15-4, 10-2 HCAC). Christie would knock home both shots to give Bluffton a 70-69 lead.
Those two free throws would give Christie a career high 32 points, but the Panthers would have a point guard of their own score a career high, as well. Cam Fails (Mason, Ohio/Kings), would race down the court, baseline-to-baseline, and make a contested lay-up as time expired to give Hanover their fifteenth win of the season and to give himself a career high 29 points.
Both point guards would mirror each other the entire game. Fails went 11-18 from the field and 6-9 from behind the arch. While Christie would go 12-17 from the field, while shooting a perfect 5-5 from the 3-point line.
The Panthers won 71-70, but this tightly contested match-up wasn’t foreign to the Sommer Center faithful. Including this game, three of out the last four games between Hanover and Bluffton, played in the Sommer Center, have been decided by one point.
Bluffton, who left Saturday’s game with an 8-11 record and 5-7 in the HCAC, played with the team that was preseason ranked inside of the top 10 the entire game. The largest deficit that the Beavers had was midway through the first half, when they found themselves trailing seven. They kept the game close.
When the ball was inbounded to start the second half, the Beavers were rolling. Going on a 23-8 run for the next 10 minutes, the home team found themselves winning 57-47, which would be their biggest lead of the game and would diminish quickly. After 30 seconds and back-to-back scores by Cam Fails, Coach Guy Neal would call a timeout.
The final 10 minutes of the game went in seesaw fashion. Throughout the game the lead changed 13 times, eight of which were in the final five minutes.
Both teams shot extremely well from the field, with their field goal percentages being well over 50. One of the real highlights of the game came from the Beavers, mainly Andrew Renner’s (Cairo/Bath) ability to keep Hanover’s leading scorer, Wes McKinney (Batesville, Ind./Batesville), quiet. McKinney had just four points, while he was averaging nearly 17 on the season.
For the Beavers, Andrew Hunter (Arlington/Arlington), who has been a major key to Bluffton’s success this season didn’t play a major role Saturday. Playing only 15 minutes and only putting up one shot, the senior is shooting 56 percent from the field.
Yet, as previously mentioned, the game came down to the final two minutes.
Christie hit a jump shot with 1:30 left to tie the game at 66, which caused Coach Jon Miller to call a timeout for Hanover. Then with 1:11 remaining, Dezman Brown (Elyria/Elyria) committed a foul that sent Fails to the line. He would knock home just one of his free throws. Not much more action would happen until Justis Dowdy (Van Wert/Lincolnview) would be fouled by McKinney with 30 seconds left, giving Dowdy, who had been 0-3 from the line to this point, a chance to give the Beavers the lead. Dowdy came in clutch after sinking both shots. The score is 68-67.
This is where things got interesting.
Fails would drive right down the court and make a layup with 15 seconds to go. Without a timeout from either team, Christie would try to do the same and be fouled by McKinney in the process.
“Nothing,” said Christie when asked about what was going through his mind when he was at the line with the game on the line. “I have always learned that clearing your mind and shooting the ball is the best way to go about it.”
You know the rest. Christie sinks both shots, giving Bluffton a slight lead, and with sub-seven seconds left Fails would go down the court and give Hanover the lead as time expired.
“Not really,” said Christie when asked if there was any extra motivation to beat his former school. “I am at the point in my career where I am just giving the most effort I can give for my team, and they put me in positions tonight to score.”
The Beavers have another tough match-up Wednesday as a conference powerhouse, Mount Saint Joseph, comes to the Sommer Center with tip-off at 7:30 p.m.