By Evan Skilliter, sports information assistant
The Beavers experienced some deja vu on Wednesday, Feb. 8, as a late Manchester three-pointer lifted the Spartans over the Beavers, 63-62, in a crucial HCAC contest at Founders Hall. Bluffton fell at Manchester on a hoop with seven ticks remaining just three weeks ago. The loss dropped the Beavers to 14-8 overall and 8-7 in the HCAC. Manchester improved to 9-13 with a 7-8 mark in the conference.
Bluffton came out strong, outscoring the Spartans 10-0 in the first six minutes of the game. Mychal Hill (London/Jonathan Alter) scored eight of those points on two triples and a layup. A Manchester layin by Brice Lantz was answered quickly by Dustin Kinn (Alvada/New Riegal), pushing the Beavers' lead to 12-2 with 13:38 remaining.
Hill and Kinn then tallied back to layups, giving the Beavers a 14-point advantage, the largest lead of the night. Manchester responded with a 17-4 spurt to pull within one point with 5:40 remaining in the half. Josh Fisher (Rockford/Parkway) halted the run with back-to-back triples, assisted by Nate Heckelman (Norwalk) and Brent Farley (Lima/Shawnee), respectively. The teams went into the locker room with the Beavers on top 28-25 at the break.
Farley got things started in the second half when Heckelman found him in the paint for two on consecutive trips down the floor, pushing the Beaver lead to 32-25. Manchester slowly climbed back into the game, taking their first lead of the contest at the 15:51 mark on a Greg Flores jumper. That shot sparked a 7-0 Spartan run as the visitors opened up a 40-34 lead with 14:15 remaining.
Nick Lee (Mt. Blanchard/Vanlue) hit a jumper to bring the Beavers within four. He then followed with a triple to answer a Spartan bucket, reducing Bluffton's deficit to 42-39. Manchester would maintain the lead until Kinn found Lee for another triple, tying the score at 46 with 8:50 remaining. Kinn hit two free throws and Hill followed with a layup, putting the Beavers ahead by four, 50-46, with eight minutes remaining.
Jordan Moss put the Spartans up 52-51 at the six-minute mark with a layin, but a Fisher hoop followed by a Lee triple put the Beavers back on top, 56-52. The Beavers carried a 62-60 lead into the last minute, but a Flores triple with just 1.1 second remaining gave the Spartans a one-point edge. Mychal Hill's last-second half court attempt fell short as the Spartans held on for the 63-62 victory.
Nick Lee finished the night as the Beavers' leading scorer. The senior hit 5-of-10 from the field, including 3-of-7 from three, and 2-of-2 from the free throw line. Mychal Hill and Josh Fisher each dropped in 12 points for the home team. Hill finished 5-of-9 from the field and 2-of-4 from the arc, while Fisher went 4-of-6 from the field, including 2-of-3 from the three-point line. Fisher also added a pair of free throws.
The Beavers are currently tied with Anderson for fourth place in the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference. They will travel to Hanover on Saturday, Feb. 11, to take on the second-place Panthers. After going to Defiance on Wednesday, Feb. 15, the Beavers will wrap up the regular season at home on Saturday, Feb. 18, against Transylvania. The top six teams in the conference all earn a spot in the conference tournament.