The Hillsdale College men’s basketball team outplayed the top-seeded Ferris State Bulldogs for most of Tuesday night’s GLIAC Tournament quarterfinal matchup, but it wasn’t enough in the end.
Despite shooting 66 percent from the floor and leading by as many as 15 points in the second half, the Chargers couldn’t keep down No. 17 Ferris State and were eliminated from the GLIAC Tournament 87 – 84.
“It was just a tough, tough way to lose,” junior guard Stedman Lowry said. “It felt like we were going to win the whole game, and they went on a run and got hot in the second half, which they do a lot. We just didn’t make enough plays down the stretch.”
The Chargers dominated the first half, shooting 75 percent from the floor (21-of-28) while holding Ferris State to 44 percent shooting. Junior guard Ryan Badowski and sophomore forward Nick Czarnowski were both 4-for-4 from the field in the opening period, as Hillsdale took a 47 – 34 lead into the locker room.
“We were really smart offensively in the first half,” head coach John Tharp said. “We ran the floor and we ran really good offense. That’s what you have to do against a team like that — you’ve got to control the tempo, and we did that.”
Hillsdale held onto its sizable lead for the first six minutes of the second half, but Ferris State took advantage of some careless possessions. The Chargers led 55 – 41 with 13:49 remaining, but the Bulldogs rattled off a 12 – 0 run over the next 3:18 to cut their deficit to 2 points. Hillsdale committed three turnovers in that stretch and committed 12 turnovers overall in the second half.
“They were able to get out and run, and that’s when they did their best work,” Lowry said. “We weren’t able to keep them in the halfcourt well enough in the second half and they made shots.”
The Bulldogs tied the game at 64 with 8:14 remaining, but the Chargers responded with a 12 – 4 run to take an 8-point lead with 4:39 remaining. Once again, the Bulldogs pushed back.
Over the next 2:20, Ferris State went on a 10 – 1 run to take its first lead since the opening minutes of the game.
Ferris State’s Markese Mayfield made back-to-back shots in the final minute to give the Bulldogs an 84 – 81 lead, but sophomore guard Nate Neveau responded with a 3-pointer to tie the game at 84 with five seconds remaining.
Rather than call timeout, Ferris State immediately inbounded the basketball and moved up the court. Guard Drew Cushingberry pump-faked a desperation heave from just inside the half-court line and drew a 3-shot foul with 1.4 seconds remaining.
Cushingberry sunk all three free throws, and the Chargers didn’t have enough time to respond.
“We just had a few too many live turnovers down the stretch. But we kept on scoring — we just weren’t getting enough stops,” Tharp said. “That’s just a tough way to go out. The bus ride home was very quiet. It was just dead silent.”
Tharp said the loss left his team feeling “numb.”
“There’s not a lot of thought going on, but I think we all deep down knew that we had an opportunity to keep on playing,” Tharp said. “We just didn’t make enough plays down the stretch.”
Despite the loss, Tharp was proud of his team’s effort.
“We played hard,” Tharp said. “I told them in the locker room, ‘Keep your heads up. You represented us. That’s how we play and that’s what we do around here.’ And that was kind of it at that moment.”
Six players scored in double figures for Hillsdale. Neveau led the Chargers with 16 points and 5 assists. Lowry scored 12 of his 14 points in the second half, and Badowski and senior center Rhett Smith each had 12. Czarnowski and sophomore forward Gordon Behr added 12 points and 10 points off the bench, respectively. The Chargers made 36 of their 55 field goal attempts (66 percent).
“You look at it statistically, and we really put ourselves in a position to win that game,” Tharp said. “And we just didn’t.”
Czarnowski and Behr both enjoyed strong finishes to the season, which bodes well for the Chargers heading into the offseason.
“I’m not a big moral victories guy, but a lot of guys like Czarnowski and Behr played really well and started playing really well towards the end of the season, so that’s good going into next season,” Lowry said.
With the defeat, the Chargers finish their final season in the GLIAC with a 15 – 12 overall record. Next year, the Chargers will compete in the Great Midwest Athletic Conference (GMAC). One of Hillsdale’s major tasks this offseason will be to familiarize itself with its new conference opponents.
“We’ll begin to learn more about these other schools and start watching some film on these opponents,” Tharp said. “We’ll start figuring out what we need to do, but we’ll start with us. We’ll do a pretty good self-reflection on everything within our program.”