NORTH MANCHESTER, Ind. - Regardless of the division, college basketball this season has proven one thing: anything can happen. The Rose-Hulman men's basketball team captured a share of the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference regular season title and earned the #1 seed in next week's conference tournament, which will now be played at Rose-Hulman in Hulbert Arena. Mount St. Joseph lost to Earlham in overtime earlier in the afternoon and Rose-Hulman, owning tie-breaks over Mount and the next two teams in the HCAC standings, clinched hosting rights and the #1 seed with the over Manchester
The Fightin' Engineers opened the game on a 9-3 run, spearheaded by five points from Nick McGrail. Manchester answered right back with a 6-0 run of their own to even the score 9-9 with 13:32 left to play in the opening half. The Spartans got hot from the perimeter and led by as much as nine with just under 10 minutes left in the half. Rose-Hulman closed the gap behind the combined play of Charlie Aimone and Craig McGee. The duo scored Rose's final 18 points and RHIT ended the half on an 18-6 run to grab a 34-32 lead at halftime.
Both teams battled closely in the second half. Craig McGee made a pair of free throws at the 10:15 mark that gave Rose-Hulman a 57-51 lead. Manchester did not quit and the Spartans used a 6-0 run over the next three and a half minutes to tie the game at 57. RHIT got some breathing room following back-to-back layups from McGee and John Czarnecki, however, the Spartans remained close following a basket by Kenny Doss.
Senior Stephen Schueth made a layup with 4:02 left in the game to put Rose-Hulman up 66-61. After a Spartan basket, Czarnecki converted an important one-and-one at the foul line that put the Engineers back up five with just over three minutes left to play. With 1:29 remaining in the game, Adrian Johnson made a layup that drew the Spartans within two points, 72-70. Craig McGee was fouled with 41 seconds left to play and was sent to the foul line. McGee made his first attempt to put Rose up three. McGee missed his second attempt but John Czarnecki tipped the ball out for a key offensive rebound. Kyle Steckel was then fouled and he made both of his free throw attempts, putting Rose up 75-70 with 35 seconds remaining. The Fighitn' Engineers got a stop on Manchester's next possession and Steckel made two foul shots to ice the game.
Charlie Aimone led Rose-Hulman with 30 points on 12-19 from the floor. Aimone went 5-7 from three. Craig McGee added 14 points, six rebounds, and six assists. John Czarnecki finished with 14 points in the win. Rose-Hulman shot 50% (28-56) from the floor and made 15 of 19 free throw attempts. Rose finished with 19 assists and only seven turnovers in the win. Manchester shot 43% (26-61) from the floor and went 6-19 (32%) from three.
Rose-Hulman ends the regular season with a share of the HCAC Title and a 16-9 record. The Fightin' Engineers went 14-4 in HCAC play this season and will be the host and #1 seed in the next week's HCAC Tournament. Rose will play the winner of a game between Transylvania and Anderson on Friday February 23 at 2 p.m. in the HCAC Semifinals.