HANOVER — Blake Robertson is taking in the game of basketball from a new perspective.
A 2016 Greenfield-Central graduate, Robertson averaged 11.3 points per game as a starter for the 20-5 Cougars. As a smooth-shooting wing, Robertson made 40 3-point field goals as a senior and also dished out 2.2 assists. Now, the college freshman is coming off the bench for Division III No. 12 Hanover College.
Playing behind 6-foot-4 junior forward Wes McKinney, the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, Robertson is averaging 1.9 points and 1.0 rebound per game for the Panthers, who finished their regular season 21-3, including a 16-2 stint in the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference.
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Hanover (25-3), with hopes of receiving an automatic bid to the Division III NCAA Tournament, cruised to a conference championship and won its first two contests in the NCAA Tournament. Robertson and the Panthers will play in the Sweet 16 on Friday at No. 18 Hope College in Holland, Michigan.
“Right now, I come in and play defense and try not to turn the ball over,” Robertson said of his role on the team. “If I get an open shot, I try to take it. I try to fill (McKinney’s) shoes as much as possible.
“One day, I will be able to take on his role when he leaves. That is the main goal for me.”
Playing behind the team’s top player has allowed the freshman to take in a quicker college game at his own pace. Robertson even cracked the starting lineup in the team’s first game.
“As a freshman, I am a role player. I was lucky enough to get the start in the first game because of an injury,” Robertson added, who has played in 21 of the Panthers’ 28 games. “Throughout the year, who plays (off the bench) changed. I have been lucky to play a lot as a freshman.”
Robertson also started as a junior for Greenfield-Central and averaged 6.2 ppg. He scored a season-high 22 points against Knightstown as a senior and shot 51 percent from the field.
At Hanover, however, Robertson said he wants to focus on adding more pounds of muscle to his frame over the summer, as well as sharpening his skill set on both ends of the floor.
“Getting stronger will help me no matter what,” he said. “I want to improve my athletic ability, even laterally so I can guard some players that are really good. Everyone in college was one of the best players on their high school team.
“I’m going to work on my offense like I usually do with shots and ball handling.”
Now, though, his focus is on Hope, which is 23-6 this season. The Flying Dutchmen have four players scoring more than 11 ppg, led by senior forward Harrison Blackledge (20 ppg). Hope played Indiana University in exhibition play to open the Hoosiers’ season and lost 98-65 at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall in Bloomington.
With a win against Hope, the Panthers will face either Wartburg or Augustana on Saturday.
Hanover beat Westminster (Missouri) 72-64 on March 3 and North Central (Illinois) 64-63 on March 4 to reach the round of 16. It will take another strong effort to get past Hope.
“We know (Hope) has a really good program traditionally and has a couple people who can score,” Robertson said. “They have one of, if not the biggest, gyms in Division III. It is going to be a really electric atmosphere, especially in the Sweet 16.”