The Hillsdale Chargers hosted last year’s NCAA Division II National Champions, the Ferris State University Bulldogs on Nov. 15.
Senior forward Gordon Behr said the Chargers always play Ferris State tight. That didn’t change this season.
After trailing 37 – 24 at the half, the Chargers took the court determined. The Chargers were outrebounded 19 – 13 in the first half, but they came back in the second with 15 rebounds to the Bulldogs’ nine.
“So far this year we haven’t been satisfied with our rebounding,” senior guard Nate Neveau said. “[Head coach John Tharp] did express his displeasure with us at halftime. I think we responded, but to beat a good team we needed to play well for 40 minutes, not just 20.”
A three-pointer by Neveau started it all, as the Chargers closed the deficit to single digits, 57 – 48 with 9:57 to go.
With about eight minutes left, the Chargers went on a scoring run of their own, beginning with two made free throws by Behr. Behr snagged a rebound on the next play, getting the ball up the court to junior guard Dylan Lowry, who was fouled. It was his turn to score two more points, and he brought the Chargers within six points, 61 – 55. Both teams made a couple of trips up and down the court with no avail, but sophomore forward Davis Larson grabbed a rebound on Ferris State’s end of the court, got the ball to Lowry, who earned the assist when Behr made a layup.
The play seemed to be repeated, but this time it was senior center Czarnowski who grabbed the rebound and put the ball in the guard’s hands. Neveau passed back to Czarnowski under the basket for a Hillsdale layup. The Chargers were only two points away, forcing the Bulldogs to call timeout with six minutes left in the game.
A minute passed without scoring on either end until Larson got the ball and passed to Czarnowksi for another layup to tie the game at 61. The Chargers had scored 10 points in three minutes while holding the Bulldogs to zero.
As the clock wound down, Ferris took back its lead. With one minute left in the game, they earned a five-point lead at 70 – 65. Lowry shot two free throws to bring Hillsdale within three points. Free throws kept the Chargers in the game. They outshot Ferris 90.5 to 41.7 percent, however, this was not enough to give the Chargers the victory.
Ferris ended the game with one more shot to take the win, 72 – 67. The teams tied in rebounding, and Ferris led field goal percentage, but not by much, as they shot 46.8 percent to Hillsdale’s 43.1.
Dylan Lowry led the Chargers in scoring with 15 points, six of which came from his free throws. Five shot 100 percent from the free-throw line, shooting at least two. Czarnowski and Neveau each added 13 points as well. Neveau’s speed and aggressiveness earned him 10 rebounds, the most of any Charger.
“Every game, you know that the people you’re playing against are really talented, if you don’t match them in intensity and effort, you don’t really have a chance,” Neveau said. “My high school coach had a very simple rule. Control the things you can control: attitude, effort and toughness. That really stuck with me and if you trust that, things will take care of themselves.”
On Nov. 20 and 21, the Chargers played in the home Thanksgiving Classic tournament. They first took on the University of Wisconsin-Parkside Rangers. They finished with a 53 – 44 victory. The Northern Michigan Wildcats were next on the schedule. They outshot the Chargers 55.3 to 48.2 percent for a 80 – 68 victory.
Then on Sunday Hillsdale hosted a close game against Saginaw Valley State University. The Chargers, who were missing the strength of two of their senior starters, fell to the Cardinals 70 – 65. Czarnowski who has been dealing with an achilles injury all season was wearing a boot on the sidelines. Neveau only saw the court for 18 minutes due to a thumb injury. He usually averages nearly 36 minutes.
“When you have two of your starters on the bench it’s hard,” assistant coach Ryan Choiniere said. “Nate played but not for very long. We played pretty well and we think we’ve built a next-man-up kind of mentality and the guys were ready to go, but we started fouling to much.”
The Cardinals went to the free throw line 22 times in the second half, making 17 of them.
“It was definitely tough to play without them,” Behr said. “As a team we struggled offensively. I think we’re just working on a few things and figuring things out.”
These non-conference games are important for Hillsdale as it prepares the team for the postseason. Each of the teams the Chargers played last week are potential regional opponents. This year’s Midwest region is made up of the G-MAC, the GLIAC and the GLVC.
“We want to show that our league is comparable,” Neveau said.
The Chargers begin conference play tonight at 7:45 p.m. as they take on the Yellow Jackets at Cedarville University. Cedarville is 2 – 3 this season. Choiniere said the Yellow Jackets always draw a big crowd but the Chargers are excited.
“They’ll have a band, they’ll have students all over, it’ll be loud,” he said. “We’ll have to play with composure and not let that atmosphere affect our play.”
On Saturday the Chargers will travel to Tiffin, Ohio, to play the Dragons at 3 p.m. Tiffin is also 2 – 3 this season. Hillsdale outranked both Cedarville and Tiffin in the G-MAC preseason coaches poll. Out of 13 schools, Hillsdale was ranked second, while Cedarville was seventh and Tiffin was voted ninth.
Behr said the team is looking forward to conference play. Hillsdale won both of its games against Cedarville last season but didn’t play Tiffin.
“We feel confident,” Behr said. “We know we didn’t play as well as we should’ve and 3 – 3 probably isn’t where we want to be, but we can focus on conference games from there.”