By Heather Bremer
For The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON, Ind. —
With Indiana basketball legend Johnny Wilson watching from the stands, the Anderson University Ravens staved off a second-half surge by Manchester University to put themselves in position for a berth in the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference postseason tourney.
AU’s 86-81 victory over the Spartans and a 20-point Bluffton win over Defiance brings the season down to Saturday’s game against Mount St. Joseph. The Ravens (11-13, 7-10) must defeat the Lions and have Transylvania beat Bluffton to earn a coveted spot in the tourney. It’s a game AU coach Owen Handy said the team should have no trouble prepping for.
“They’re going to have the day off from practice tomorrow to get their legs back, have them rested. On Friday, we’ll do our scouting report, probably get up and down the floor a little bit, get shots up,” Handy said. “I want to be ready to play. It shouldn’t be a game where they need motivation. We need to be fresh and ready to play.”
The Ravens certainly looked ready for the Spartans (4-20, 1-16) on Wednesday. Halfway through the first half, AU steadily built its lead from eight to 10 to as high as 15 points. Anderson was up 46-35 at halftime, led by Phil Hogan’s 16 first-half points and eight 3-pointers as a team.
Two minutes into the second, Manchester reduced AU’s lead to four. The Ravens regained their footing and pushed their margin back to nine, but the Spartans kept coming. Manchester presented significant matchup challenges for AU, with two very big and strong players that could also shoot the ball from the perimeter. The Spartans also employed a high-low offense, which proved very difficult for Anderson to defend.
“Coach (Brad) Nadbourne, obviously a great coach, he saw that late in the second half and just took it to the well,” Handy said. “And then they killed us on the glass in the second half. They missed shots, they usually got to shoot a second time. We dug our fingernails in and held on just barely.”
Hogan, named to the d3hoops.com National Team of the Week, led the Ravens with 29 points, keeping him on pace to break Wilson’s decades-old scoring average record. Wilson met with the team in the locker room after the game, stopped to take pictures with Hogan and had a few words of encouragement for the Ravens senior.
“It was a great feeling. I couldn’t stop smiling once he came into the locker room. It really means a lot. It really shows he cares about the program,” Hogan said. “He just told me to break the record and keep playing. He just told me to keep doing what I was doing.”
Apparently that includes getting his teammates together in the gym on their day off to stay loose. The magnitude of Saturday’s game isn’t lost on Hogan, and he wants his team to be ready.
“It’s the biggest game of the season. It’s win-lose. If we lose, we go home. I told my young guys just to stay dedicated,” Hogan said. “We’re going to take care of what we have to take care of, and hopefully Bluffton loses one.”