After struggling through injuries in December, the Hillsdale College men’s basketball team is healthy and ready to make a push for the postseason.
At the halfway point of their conference schedule, the Chargers are 3 – 7 in the GLIAC and 7 – 9 overall. The Chargers lost their first five conference games in December but have rebounded with three wins in their past five contests.
“We got injured and sick and we just weren’t good enough as a program to handle that. We’re starting to play a little bit better right now,” head coach John Tharp said. “We knew we were going to go through some difficult times with this team until we figured some things out, but we have a full roster now and we’ve been doing some good things.”
Sophomore guard Harrison Niego, a transfer from Indiana University, missed Hillsdale’s first four conference games. Niego has averaged 8.5 points per game and 2 assists per game since his Hillsdale debut. Junior guard Ryan Badowski missed six games in December and January due to illness. Badowski is averaging 12.5 points per game on 47 percent field goal shooting.
Badowski returned to action on Jan. 12, when the Chargers put up their most impressive conference win of the year. Hillsdale knocked off the GLIAC South Division-leading Findlay Oilers 80 – 65. It was the Chargers’ first win over the Oilers since 2014.
“We played the best defensive game we’ve played. They have some really talented guys and we really made it difficult for them,” said junior guard Stedman Lowry, who scored 19 points on 7‑of‑9 shooting. “We needed that one. That was just a big win.”
Sophomore point guard Nate Neveau led Hillsdale with 23 points and 12 rebounds. The Chargers made 53 percent of their field goal attempts and were 13-of-13 from the free throw line. Defensively, the Chargers allowed the Oilers to shoot just 44 percent from the field overall and 27 percent from beyond the arc.
Two days after completing one of their best defensive performances of the season, the Chargers suffered their worst. The Ashland Eagles shot 63 percent from the floor overall and 50 percent from 3‑point territory in an 86 – 76 win over the Chargers on Saturday.
“Our team defense was terrible,” Tharp said. “They put you in some one-on-one situations with how they play and we allowed some of that to happen by not helping our teammates.”
Hillsdale led 66 – 64 with 6:49 remaining but Ashland finished the game on a 22 – 10 run.
“That’s a game we should win. We’ve just got to defend,” Lowry said. “We’ve got to be there to help each other. If you get beat off the dribble you’ve got to help your guy and someone in turn has to help you. We’ve just got to get back to our principles defensively.”
The Chargers played well offensively, shooting 52 percent and committing just 8 turnovers. Four players scored in double figures.
“Our offense was good,” Lowry said. “We always are really good when we have a balanced attack like that.”
Hillsdale’s defense will be tested again tonight when they host the Walsh Cavaliers (12 – 4, 5 – 4 GLIAC) at 8 p.m. in Dawn Tibbetts Potter Arena. Walsh senior guard Zac Carter leads the GLIAC in scoring with 25.4 points per game and senior forward Trey Fletcher is third in the GLIAC, averaging 19.8 points per contest.
“They have two big-time, just unbelievable scorers,” Tharp said. “They can score in a lot of different ways.”
As the Chargers prepare for Walsh, they also have to readjust to a stricter schedule as Hillsdale’s spring semester begins.
“It takes a little bit to get back into the routine. So you’ve got to be careful from the mental fatigue part from this point on,” Tharp said. “This place is not the easiest place, and so you’ve got to make sure that they’re mentally and physically fresh.”
With 10 games remaining, Hillsdale is two games out of playoff position in the GLIAC. But the Chargers aren’t looking beyond tonight’s clash with Walsh.
“Every day we’re trying to get better. There’s a lot of pride in this program and we’re trying to make improvements and keep fighting,” Tharp said. “We know that it’s one day at a time, one week at a time. Whatever happens at the end, we’re trying to write our own chapter here.”
After this weekend, the Chargers will play five of their final eight games on the road.
“Everybody’s beating everybody,” Lowry said. “We’re right there. We really have to get these two at home this week, and then we’ve just got to take it game by game. We can’t look too far into the future.”