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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.