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Sophomore forward Chris Gian­nakopoulos cel­e­brates. (Photo: Matt Kendrick / Hillsdale Col­legian)

The Hillsdale College men’s bas­ketball team has com­pleted its remarkable resur­gence.

Despite opening their GLIAC schedule with five straight losses, the Chargers clinched a spot in the GLIAC Tour­nament last weekend by winning eight of their final nine games. Hillsdale will be either the seventh or eighth seed and play at No. 22 Findlay or at No. 21 Ferris State on Tuesday, pending the out­comes of two games tonight.

Regardless of who they face, the Chargers feel con­fident that their current form can carry them to a first-round upset.

“We always have con­fi­dence going into the tour­nament but we’re par­tic­u­larly con­fident just because we’ve been playing our best bas­ketball,” junior guard Stedman Lowry said. “We’re going to have to face one of two really good teams, but we’re con­fident and I think we can beat both of them.”

The Chargers earned a post­season berth on Feb. 16 thanks to their 92 – 71 victory over Lake Erie and Walsh’s loss to Ashland. No Charger knew they could clinch a tour­nament spot before Saturday’s regular-season finale at Ohio Dominican, so the win felt a bit more special.

“I’m just really pleased and really proud,” head coach John Tharp said after Hillsdale’s win over the Storm. “We weren’t very good at one time. We were pretty bad, and these guys just toughened it out. They’re just getting it, and they’re under­standing their roles so well.”

All five Hillsdale starters scored in double figures against Lake Erie. Junior guard Ryan Bad­owski scored 26 points on 8-of-10 3-point shooting. Lowry scored 13 points. Sophomore point guard Nate Neveau recorded a double-double with 12 points and 10 assists. Senior forward Rhett Smith scored 12 points and senior center Nick Archer added 11 in the final home game of their careers.

The Chargers were red hot from beyond the arc, con­verting 20 of their 32 3-point attempts (63 percent). 

“We knew that they have a ten­dency to stare when you drive and kick or if the ball goes inside,” Tharp said. “The game plan was to try to play inside-out and to pen­e­trate and find and they did that.”

Hillsdale held Lake Erie to 47 percent field goal shooting and 41 percent shooting from beyond the arc.  After the game, Tharp said  defense will con­tinue to be a “point of emphasis,” and Hillsdale’s focus on defense paid off at Ohio Dominican on Sat­urday.

The Chargers forced 15 turnovers and held the Pan­thers to 37 percent field goal shooting and 30 percent shooting from beyond the arc in a low-scoring 60 – 51 win — Hillsdale’s fifth con­sec­utive victory.

“We struggled offen­sively, but we were really pleased with the defensive effort,” Tharp said. “It just showed that we can win a dif­ferent way. That was an important thing for our bas­ketball team, since we’ve been stressing our defense and rebounding.”

With a road matchup against Findlay or Ferris State upcoming, Hillsdale’s grind-it-out win was a good sign.

“We’re going to have to play great defense, because Ferris and Findlay are both high-powered offensive teams,” Lowry said. “We didn’t play great offen­sively and we still were able to get the win, so it def­i­nitely is a con­fi­dence booster.”

Since they won’t know their first-round opponent until tonight, the Chargers have been prac­ticing dif­fer­ently this week.

“We have some guys that are banged up phys­i­cally, so we need to get some rest while also trying to get better and keep our edge and keep our con­fi­dence,” Tharp said.

The Chargers studied film from their past games on Monday, held a longer com­pet­itive practice Tuesday, and had a lighter skill practice yes­terday. Hillsdale will play an intrasquad scrimmage today and then take tomorrow off before preparing to face either Ferris State or Findlay starting Sat­urday.

The Chargers will treat Sat­urday through Monday leading up to Tuesday’s tour­nament game like their normal Monday through Wednesday schedule when preparing for a Thursday game.

“We’ll watch a ton of film of our opponent and try to figure out what we have to do to be suc­cessful,” Tharp said. “We have a formula right now that we’ve talked to our guys pretty con­sis­tently about and we’ll keep on reit­er­ating that formula.”

Last season, Walsh was the eighth seed in the GLIAC Tour­nament but was playing its best bas­ketball at the right time. The Cav­a­liers beat top-seed Saginaw Valley in their opener and Hillsdale in the semi­final to advance to the cham­pi­onship game. The Chargers haven’t lost in three weeks and will try to pull off a similar run.

“We have a lot of con­fi­dence going into the game,” Lowry said. “We’ll be ready.”

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Nathanael Meadowcroft
A senior from Portland, Oregon, Nathanael serves as one of the Collegian’s senior writers and covers the football team and men’s basketball team. He is studying mathematics and journalism and plans to return to the Pacific Northwest after graduation. Nathanael has interned for the Portland Tribune over two summers, covering a variety of sports. Email: nmeadowcroft@hillsdale.edu | Twitter: @NMeadowcroft