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Hilbert men’s basketball falls in AMCC final

POSTSEASON DRIVE — Xavier Major drives to the basket during Hilbert’s 90-73 AMCC quarterfinal win at home. Photo courtesy of Hilbert College.
Hilbert College made a run in the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference tournament, which included two victories and an upset win over rival Medaille in the semifinals.

The Hawks defeated Pitt-Greensburg 90-73 at home in the quarterfinals Tuesday (Feb. 26), to advance for a second straight year to the Conference Final Four. They followed that with the 80-77 victory over two-seed and local rival Medaille three days later, before ultimately falling to the conference No.1 seed Penn State Berhend in the championship game.

Against Pitt-Greensburg, the Hawks used an explosive first half in which they shot over 61 percent from the floor to gain an 16-point edge. Six different players scored in double-figures, led by 19 from freshman Jalen Smith.

Hilbert had started the season 19-3 before losing its final three games of the regular season. The Hawks had 21 assists in their quarterfinal win and according to their coach, got back to what gave them so much success to begin the year.

“We played the way we’ve needed to play,” said head coach Rob deGrandpre. “The important part was we were so unselfish. This is who we are. I don’t know who the guys are that I’ve coached the last 10 days because we didn’t play up to our capabilities. Tonight, this is the team we started with and this is the team that was leading the race a couple weeks ago. I’m very pleased.”

The Hawks defense forced 12 turnovers and got 22 points off of them. Junior Trevor Stark led the team with five assists and both senior C.J. Hodge and sophomore Nick Nadeau dished out four each.

“We moved the ball, we shared it,” said Hodge. “We had 21 assists, which is great, and eight turnovers, so we took care of the ball phenomenally…We just got back to the way we’ve played. Not one-on-one basketball, just team ball.”

Three days later, the Hawks took down their crosstown rival for the second time this season, thanks to a second half rally in which they outscored the Mavericks by nine. Jerame Owens led the way with 21 points for Hilbert, while Smith and Stark chipped in 13 a piece.

“Who else would you want to play,” Hodge said heading into their game against the Mavericks. “We finally beat them this year, my first time. Who else would you rather get to get to the championship?”

The Hawks graduated three seniors last season, including Dan McFarland, a First-Team All-Conference selection and the all-time steals leader (188) at Hilbert. He also tallied 1,532 points in his career and pulled down 538 rebounds. Replacing him hasn’t been easy for the Hawks, but they used a collective effort, led by their lone senior, C.J. Hodge, to reach a 21-7 final mark this season.

“We felt like losing those three starters, even though two of them were first team All-Conference guys, it was really positive to see some of our young guys, who didn’t get a chance to play a lot last year, just work their tails off and good things usually come to those who wait. And our young guys were ready,” said deGrandpre.

Hodge’s numbers on the floor don’t blow you away, but the four-year player has led with passion and enthusiasm, something appreciated by his teammates and head coach.

“He’s been the face of our program for the last four years,” said deGrandpre. “[He’s the] heart and soul, and he does all the little things. He’s a leader in every sense of the world. He stepped up big time… He plays with his heart on his sleeve.”

Penn State Behrend earned their second consecutive championship by claiming a 66-51 victory over Hilbert on March 1. With the win, the Lions earned the AMCC league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Division III national tournament.

Owens led the Hawks with 19 points and 12 rebounds as he earned his 15th double-double this season — 25th in his two-year career. Nadeau added 12 points in 26 minutes before fouling out. Ryan Brewster came off the bench to add 8 points on 4 of 5 shooting.

Hilbert closed out the 2013-14 season earning the program’s most wins in a season (21) and the program’s first appearance in the AMCC title game.

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