Senior guard Ryan Badowski drives to the basket in Friday’s
exhibition against Michigan State. (Photo: MaryKate Drews | Courtesy)

The Hillsdale College Men’s Basketball team kicked off the 2017-18 season with a 77-44 loss to the Michigan State Spartans, the No. 2 team in the nation according to the Associated Press.

Although the score didn’t look terribly impressive, when Hillsdale last played Michigan State in 2012, the score was similar: 80-58. The result of that season? A GLIAC championship.

The Chargers’ defense blanketed the Spartans, holding them to just over one point per possession. Head coach John Tharp said that type of defensive efficiency is one of the team’s goals.

Tom Izzo, head coach of the Spartans, agreed.

“I thought they were very solid defensively,” Izzo said in a press conference. “John’s a good coach. I always thought he was a better offensive coach than a defensive coach. Maybe he is changing as he gets older.”

Senior shooting guard Stedman Lowry, the Chargers’ leading scorer from last season, failed to score in the contest, but Tharp said he is always the primary target when teams prepare defensively.

Sophomore forward Miles Bridges, the Spartans’ leading scorer last season, shot 4-13 from the field and 1-5 from beyond the arc.

“We held him to 10 points. He missed some shots, but he did it on both ends of the floor,” Tharp said.

Sophomore guard Nate Neveau and senior guard Ryan Badowski led the Chargers with seven points each. Badowski also added four rebounds and Neveau had two assists.

When Tharp looked up at the scoreboard with six minutes left in the first half, he leaned over to assistant coach Ryan Choiniere and exclaimed, “We are only down 12!”

A score that close against a team like the Spartans is a credit to the defense, but Tharp said the Chargers have many areas for improvement.

Hillsdale left points on the floor with their poor free throw shooting, making 11 of 21 shots from the free throw line. Tharp acknowledged the team had not shot enough free throws in their preseason practices. Additionally, the jeering of the Spartan student section made the Breslin Center feel more like a high school rivalry game than a collegiate exhibition.

“Free throws will be a point of emphasis, there is no doubt about it. We will fix things but you can’t overreact at the same time,” Tharp said.

Because it was an exhibition game, it was not a standard game with starters and bench players. Every team member played against the Spartans.

“We are trying to figure out some of our rotations and we thought the only way to do that is to give some guys some opportunities in live action,” Tharp said.

One of those players was freshman forward Austen Yarian, who had four points and four rebounds in 14 minutes. But against the athleticism of the Spartans’ forwards, Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr., Yarian had little luck inside, but managed to score from the charity stripe. Bridges is an Associated Press preseason All-American and Jaren Jackson Jr. is a 6-foot 11-inch freshman who is projected to be picked in the first round of the NBA draft.

“I wasn’t expecting to guard those type of players during my first basketball game,” Yarian said.

“In high school I was the bigger, stronger person out of everybody. But now, everybody is big, everybody is strong. Now I have to use my skill instead of my strength.”

Yarian’s performance impressed Tharp.

“He did some freshman-like things out there, especially with some of our rotations defensively,” Tharp said. “But I think he had an impressive start for his first college game against a top team in the nation.”

Looking forward beyond last week’s exhibition game, Tharp is confident that the Chargers will improve.

“Our defensive principles are sound, we need to rebound the ball better, we need to pick up our tempo offensively. Shots will fall for this team,” he said.

The Chargers play two games this weekend in Canton, Ohio at Malone University in the G-MAC/GLVC Crossover Classic. They will play Southern Indiana University on Friday at 6 p.m. and the University of Illinois-Springfield on Saturday at 7 p.m.