The Anderson University men's basketball team defeated Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference rival Manchester College 83-64 on Wednesday night at O.C. Lewis Gymnasium to clinch their first outright conference championship in 49 years.
The victory secures the HCAC title and gives the Ravens the right to host the post-season HCAC Tournament on Feb. 26-27. Top-seeded Anderson will play the winner of the first round No. 4/5 seed game on Feb 26. The championship game will also be at O.C. Lewis Gymnasium on Feb. 27.
The championship was the first for Anderson University since the 1981-82 team tied with Hanover for the Hoosier-Buckeye Conference and the first outright title since the 1960-61 team won the old Hoosier College Conference.
"It feels really good," said AU coach Tom Slyder of the championship. "It was done in convincing fashion, which made it fun. If there is a chance to clinch the title, you want to get it done as soon as you can."
"This is awesome," said guard Gabe Miller, who led the Ravens with 28 points. "It's huge to get it down tonight in front of our home crowd. We've worked hard all season and it has been 13 guys coming to practice and playing hard everyday. It was one of our goals in the beginning of the season."
Miller scored 24 of his game-high 28 points in the first half as the Ravens jumped out to a 45-33 lead at the intermission. The junior added three rebounds and a team-high five assists and two steals, hitting 9-of-14 field goals and 8-of-8 free throws, including a pair of 3-pointers.
Ty Riddle gave Miller plenty of support, pouring in 26 points, two assists and two steals, hitting 7-of-17 field goals and 7-of-7 free throws, including five 3-pointers. Riddle leads the HCAC with 73 3-pointers made, which is eight short of Brent Ross' 20-year old record of 81 in a single season.
"Late in the first half, we got defensive stops and Ty got loose for some 3-point looks," said Slyder. "Gabe was huge in the first half. They keyed on Brock (Morrison) so much, that it opened things up for them."
Morrison, who was the HCAC Player of the Week and on the D3hoops.com National Team of the Week, finished with 11 points and a team-high eight rebounds. His streak of 20-point, 10-rebound games was snapped at four.
"Last time we played Manchester, their big guys clogged the lane," said Miller. "With Brock playing so well, they did that again tonight and that opened things up for us and created good looks."
Andrew Jones also finished in double figures with 11 points, four rebounds, two assists and Andrew Bowman added four points, eight rebounds and four assists in his first game back after missing the previous four with a head injury.
AU shot 46 percent from the field, including 50 in the first half and 8-of-25 from 3-point range. The Ravens also netted 93 percent from the free throw line, making 25-of-27. Manchester finished at 43 percent shooting, but only 3-of-16 from behind the arc and 17-of-25 from the charity stripe.
The Ravens had a 35-27 advantage on the boards, including 7-3 on the offensive glass. AU also had the advantage in assists (16-13), turnovers (9-11), points off turnovers (7-4) and second chance points (10-3) while the Spartans had the lead in points in the paint (34-16), blocks (3-0), steals (7-6) and bench scoring (24-7).
No. 18 AU improved to 21-3 overall and 13-2 in the HCAC. They will finish the regular season at No. 2 seed Hanover on Saturday. The game will be carried live on the internet broadcast at 3 p.m.
Anderson University is a private Christian university of 2,700 undergraduate and graduate students in central Indiana. Anderson continues to be recognized as a top Christian college: in 2009, U.S. News and World Report ranked Anderson University among the best colleges and universities in the Midwest for the sixth consecutive year. Established in 1917 by the Church of God, Anderson University offers more than 65 undergraduate majors and graduate programs in business, education, music, nursing, and theology.