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For the first 20 minutes last Thursday night against the Michigan Tech Huskies, the Hillsdale College men’s bas­ketball team looked sluggish. The Chargers needed a win to stay in the GLIAC tour­nament picture, but they trailed the Huskies 37 – 24 at halftime in front of a home crowd that had wit­nessed two straight comeback efforts fall short.
For the second 20 minutes, however, Hillsdale looked like a dif­ferent team. The Chargers shut down Michigan Tech’s offense and jump-started their own, outscoring the Huskies 42 – 24 in the second half to win 66 – 61.
Hillsdale won its second straight game on Sat­urday, shooting past the Northern Michigan Wildcats 85 – 70 to improve to 10 – 9 in the GLIAC and move into a four-way tie for sixth place in the GLIAC with three regular-season games remaining.
But the Chargers would be on the outside of the tour­nament if they hadn’t pulled out a win against the Huskies on Feb. 11.
“You almost saw a small sample size of our season within that game,” Chargers head coach John Tharp said. “We were much better defen­sively the second half than we were the first half. I thought we wore them down.”
The Chargers forced 11 turnovers in the second half alone, several of which were the result of junior forward Nick Archer’s physical inside play.
“We had a great sense of urgency in that second half. We fed off each other’s energy and the energy from the crowd, which made us a lot tougher defen­sively,” Archer said. “When we play that way we’re tough to beat. The trick is to be able to put forth that sort of effort for 40 minutes.”
Archer fin­ished with nine points and three rebounds, but his impact was felt beyond the stat sheet.
“He played really, really strong this weekend,” Tharp said. “He was a big boost for our team and our energy. He got some steals and worked in the post.”
With his team facing another second-half double-digit deficit, Tharp said it was Archer who got the Chargers back on track.
“When we go through a season as long as we do and you have the ups and downs — and none of us like those downs — you need some guys to snap you out of it,” Tharp said. “I thought he did.”
The Chargers used an 18 – 7 run to draw even with the Huskies at 54 – 54 with 5:58 remaining, and took the lead for good when senior point guard Zach Miller and sophomore guard Stedman Lowry hit back-to-back 3-pointers to give Hillsdale a six-point lead with less than a minute left.
“For us to start out slowly like that and then pull our­selves out in the middle of the game and get a win was huge for us and allows us to see that we can win these bas­ketball games,” said senior forward Kyle Cooper, who led the Chargers with 25 points and 12 rebounds. “We saw the formula that we need to execute to win, and that’s being really active on the defensive end, and running spaced motion on the offensive end.”
The Chargers didn’t need a dra­matic comeback to defeat the Northern Michigan Wildcats on Sat­urday, as their offense got the job done. Hillsdale fin­ished with a 63-percent shooting clip (32-for-51) from the field, thanks in large part to Cooper’s third-career 40-point per­for­mance. Cooper, who leads the GLIAC with 22.9 points per game and was awarded his fourth GLIAC North Player of the Week award of the season on Monday, shot 81 percent (13-for-16) from the field and 80 percent (4-for-5) from 3-point ter­ritory.
“We got him the ball in the right posi­tions on the floor,” Tharp said. “I wouldn’t have guessed he had 40. I don’t know if you can have a quiet 40 or not but he had that quiet game. He just did it inside, he did it outside, he did it at the free throw line, did it in tran­sition, had a couple offensive rebounds. He was pretty impressive.”
Cooper said the Chargers were “due” for a good shooting per­for­mance.
“It feels like it had been forever since we had a good shooting day. But really I think it came down to just taking our time on offense,” Cooper said. “We didn’t try to force too many things. It was more about setting good screens and getting each other open.”
To pre­serve “freshness,” Tharp gave his players Sunday and Monday off before they began to prepare for tonight’s game at fourth-place Ferris State at 8 p.m.
“There’s things that we’ve learned from the first game. Ferris State is just incredibly ath­letic,” Tharp said. “They offensive rebound incredibly well, they’re really good in tran­sition, they’ve got a lot of guys that can do a lot of dif­ferent things, so that gives us a certain chal­lenge.”
Hillsdale will return home for a matchup against the Grand Valley Lakers on Sat­urday at 3 p.m. As it is the final home game of the season, the Chargers will conduct a pregame Senior Day cer­emony to honor their grad­u­ating seniors.
“It’s going to be really weird to be com­pletely honest,” Miller said. “Knowing that it’s the last time playing out on our home floor with all my boys is going to be weird for me. I’m sure I’m going to be pretty hyped up early on before it starts but once things get going it’ll be just another game.”
The Chargers are tied with the Lakers in the GLIAC standings, so Cooper, Miller, and other seniors are focused on grabbing the right result.
“I’d love to be able to think about the fact that it’s my last home game and stuff, and that’ll obvi­ously be a big deal and I’ll walk out with my family before the game, but just as important I think is the fact that we’re tied with Grand Valley right now,” Cooper said. “I don’t think there’s any need for any external moti­vation for that game. It’s going to be huge and I’m just hoping that we can come out with a ton of energy and play a really good bas­ketball game from start to finish.”