WATERVILLE — Matt Hanna took the court for the second half of Colby’s Friday night game against Hamilton knowing he had to be careful on the defensive end. The junior guard had three fouls, and didn’t want to do anything foolish — a reach in, or a lazy footwork — to pick up a fourth.

So, when he did pick up that fourth foul, 57 seconds into the half on an offensive foul in transition, Hanna was the most unhappy person in Wadsworth Gymnasium.

“I came out not wanting to be too aggressive on the defensive end, and I actually got it on offense. I let the frustration get to me a little bit,” Hanna said. “I apologized to my teammates, my coaching staff, for letting that get in my head a little bit.”

Hanna returned to the game with 11:52 to play, a few minutes after Colby lost leading scorer Sam Jefferson for the remainder of the game to an ankle injury. With Jefferson out, Hanna stepped up, scoring 11 of his team-high 20 points over the final eight minutes, leading the Mules to a 78-74 New England Small College Athletic Conference win over the Continentals.

“I just knew when I got back out there, I had to keep playing my game. We have a great group of guys that are going to be able to make shots. I just had to do my part. Stay locked in out there,” Hanna said.

Hanna was a perfect 4 for 4 from 3-point range, and his final three gave the Mules a 70-65 lead with 2:07 to play. In the final 1:07, Hanna was 4 for 4 at the line to help clinch the win and improve ninth-ranked Colby to 19-1 (6-1 NESCAC).

“A strength of our team this year has been different guys stepping up on different nights,” Colby coach Damien Strahorn said. “Matt kind of carried us through the final stretch and made some big shots, some big free throws. When you’re trying to get to a championship level, you need guys who can step up on a night when an injury (occurs) or somebody doesn’t have their A game.”

Jefferson was injured when he landed awkwardly after making a layup with just over 14 minutes to go. Jefferson went to the trainers room for a minute and returned to the bench, but did not reenter the game. Strahorn said Jefferson, who averages just over 22 points per game, will be reevaluated before Saturday afternoon’s game against Amherst.

“(The ankle) kind of tightened up on him in the second half and we couldn’t get him back out there. We have to find a different way to win. Guys stepped up, and I’m proud of the group for that,” Strahorn said.

Along with Hanna, senior forward Dean Weiner came up with some big shots in the second half. At 6-foot-7, Weiner is Colby’s only traditional low post presence. He came off the bench to score 14 points, shooting 6 for 8 from the field, with six boards and three blocks. Seven of Weiner’s points came in a two and a half minute stretch midway through the second half, helping the Mules pull ahead for a six-point lead.

“Obviously we want Sam on the court. He’s been amazing for us, one of the best players in the country this year. But it’s next man up. We have a great rotation, and we know whoever comes in is going to be able to fill that role,” Hanna said.

Hanna had the hot hand early, making three 3-pointers in the game’s first five minutes, before the foul trouble sent him to the bench. Hanna’s three with just over two minutes to play increased Colby’s lead to five, 70-65, and gave the Mules the cushion they needed to hold off and late Hamilton rally, even when Kena Gilmour scored six of his game-high 39 points in the final two minutes to keep the Continentals close.

“Those are the shots you live for as a player. Growing up, those are the shots you want to make. My teammates stayed with me, kept telling me it was going to be my time and I was going to make some big shots,” Hanna said. “This is what we worked all fall for. We don’t want to play in all blowout games. We want to see what we’re made of. I think we all did that in the final four minutes, and I was able to make a couple down the stretch.”

The game was Colby’s first since suffering its first loss of the season, last Saturday at Tufts, 80-67.

“Coming back off that, you’re looking to see, how is the group going to respond? On a night I didn’t think we were able to play our best, we found a way to win,” Strahorn said. “Tomorrow’s going to be another tough game. That’s the beauty of the NESCAC.”

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

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Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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