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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.”