Free throws down the stretch sent Hanover men's basketball to the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference Tournament semifinals with a 78-70 win over Franklin in the opening round at Collier Arena on Tuesday.

Hanover, the three-seed in the tournament, led by as many as 15 points in the second half but fouls began to pile up for the Panthers allowing the Grizzlies to crawl back into the game.

Trailing 57-44 with 9:40 remaining, Franklin made three trips to the free-throw line in the next 1:22 as Trae Washington, Dion Smith and Terry Sargent combined to hit all six attempts at the stripe to cut the deficit into single digits.

A Desmond Marks basket on the ensuing possession put the Panthers back up 10 but five points by Sargent and threes by Bailey Howard and Washington suddenly had Franklin down just 64-62 with four minutes to play.

But that was as close as the Grizzlies would get the rest of the way. After the Panthers watched their opponent sink 17-of-21 free throws in the final period, the home team returned the favor.

Hanover went to the foul line six times in the final 1:38 and hit 12-of-12 from the charity stripe. Tim Bass hit six, V.J. Billups had four and Marks hit the final two with 16 seconds left to secure the 78-70 win.

"I thought our guys did a really good job of executing tonight," Hanover coach Jon Miller said. "Franklin is an older team and we knew they weren't going to lie down and they hit some big shots and had a couple plays in transition. We came down and went 12-of-12 from the free-throw line and as a coach you like to see your kids close it out and we did."

The Panthers had just 10 fouls in the first half but committed 17 in the second half. Despite the numerous opportunities Franklin capitalized on from the foul line in the final 20 minutes, Miller was proud with his team's ability to maintain its lead all the way to the end.

"Franklin is a very hard to team to guard and not foul," Miller said. "They do a lot of things offensively and we just have to compete as hard as we can. We battled foul trouble at the five-spot and with Rieger as well but the depth we had at those positions helped us play through the foul trouble a little bit better."

Hanover shot 60 percent from the field in the first half which provided much needed cushion in the second half.

The Panthers used a 9-0 run to go up 9-6 early in the half before the two teams played back and forth the next eight minutes. A Trent Crabtree lay-up sparked Hanover to a seven-point lead with 8:42 on the clock.

Five different players scored in the final five minutes as Hanover led 41-31 at halftime.

Billups led Hanover with 18 points and also posted a team-high seven rebounds. Bass added 16 points and six assists while James scored 14.

Franklin (10-16) got 17 points from Howard and 16 from Washington. Sargent and Smith scored 12 each.

Hanover (18-8) faces second-seeded Defiance in the first semifinal on Friday night at Rose-Hulman. The second semifinal features the one-seed and host Engineers against fourth-seeded Mount St. Joseph.

"Defiance is tough, they're well coached and they've got two of the top three players in the HCAC," Miller said of Friday's opponent. "We split our two regular season games with them and both were very physical contests. Friday is an example of the fun part of the game. We get the chance to compete with another great team and execute a game plan to win a ballgame."

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MEN'S HCAC TOURNAMENT

Tuesday's Opening Round

at Hanover

HANOVER 78, FRANKLIN 70



FRANKLIN (10-16) - (g)Howard 17, (g)Washington 16, (g)Sargent 12, Smith 12, (f)Porter 7, Mann 3, Barton 2, McCory 1, (c)Federmann 0, Prather 0, Scruggs 0, Boles 0, Niehoff 0, Selburg 0.

HANOVER (18-8) - (f)Billups 18, (g)Bass 16, (g)James 14, (c)Marks 7, Black 7, (f)Rieger 6, Bingham 4, Crabtree 2, Van Kleunen 2, Muchmore 2.



Halftime - Hanover 41-31. 3-Point Goals - Franklin 7 (Howard 3, Washington 1, Sargent 1, Mann 1, Smith 1), Hanover 5 (James 2, Billups 1, Bass 1, Black 1). Rebounds - Franklin 25 (Sargent 5, Smith 5), Hanover 28 (Billups 7). Assists - Franklin 5 (Sargent 4), Hanover 10 (Bass 6). Turnovers - Franklin 15, Hanover 10. Total Fouls - Franklin 22, Hanover 27. Free Throws - Franklin 25-29, Hanover 19-21. Fouled Out - Franklin: Howard, Hanover: Rieger. Next Game - Franklin's season ends; Hanover faces Defiance in the HCAC Tournament semifinals on Friday at Defiance.