LEXINGTON, Ky. -- The Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology men's basketball team came one shot short of a Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference Tournament championship, falling 49-48 to Transylvania University on Sunday at the Beck Center.
Trailing by one point, Rose-Hulman had a final possession to win the game with seven seconds remaining. Junior Craig McGee, who led all scorers with 21 points, had the ball in his hands and attempted a well defended 19-foot fadeaway at the buzzer that fell short as the Pioneers claimed their first NCAA Division III Tournament appearance since 2013.
Rose-Hulman made its third HCAC Tournament Championship Game appearance in the six-year era of head coach Rusty Loyd with this 2020 run. The Fightin' Engineers eliminated No. 3 seed Hanover 69-63 on Friday, then defeated No. 2 seed Franklin 83-68 on Saturday before attempting to complete the three-game title run in three days on Sunday.
McGee was named to the all-tournament team following completion of the tournament, along with John Czarnecki who led Rose-Hulman with 20 points in the Franklin win. Michael Jefferson was named Tournament Most Valuable Player after leading Transylvania with 16 points, 12 rebounds, eight steals and seven assists in the championship game.
Lucas Gentry also reached double figures for Transylvania with 15 points and 14 rebounds. The Pioneers will advance to the NCAA Division III Tournament after Sunday's narrow win, and Transylvania will learn its NCAA Division III Tournament destination on Monday.
The two teams were locked in a game that was never separated by more than two possessions in the entire 40 minutes. Rose-Hulman held a 28-26 lead at the half, after a jumper by McGee at the 1:42 mark brought the previously tied score.
In the second half, the score remained tight all the way through as a three-pointer by Chaplin brought Rose-Hulman within 41-40 at the 9:52 mark. A layup by Lake put the Engineers up again at 42-41, a margin which lasted until 5:41 was left on the clock.
Another score by Lake knotted the score at 46-46 with 2:09 left in the contest. Jefferson answered with one free throw to give Transylvania a 47-46 lead.
Back-to-back baskets set the stage for the exciting finish. McGee scored at the 1:29 mark to put Rose-Hulman up 48-47, before Zach Larimore answered with a basket of his own to give Transylvania the lead 49-48 at the 1:20 mark.
Following a Transylvania steal on the next possession, the Engineers earned a key defensive stop and McGee grabbed the rebound to set the stage for a final possession.
Rose-Hulman initially tried to run a play without calling a timeout, but strong Transylvania defense forced the Engineers to use a timeout with 7.0 seconds remaining. The Pioneers defended the last second shot with a double team to secure the victory.
Transylvania improved to 19-8 on the season, while Rose-Hulman completes its 10th consecutive winning campaign at 15-13. The Fightin' Engineers also capped the playing careers of Combs, Czarnecki, Lake and David Saadatnezhadi in the contest. Czarnecki ends his career with 1,006 points. McGee will enter his senior season next winter ranked No. 20 in school history in scoring (1,142 points) and No. 2 in career assists (453). McGee also set a Rose-Hulman single-season school record with 173 assists in a year that featured him recording the first two triple-doubles in the history of Fightin' Engineer men's basketball.