The Hillsdale Chargers competed in their second and final exhibition game of the preseason on Saturday, and fell to the University of Toledo Rockets, 72 – 63.
The Rockets are a Division I team with the potential to qualify for the NCAA tournament in March, according to senior guard Harrison Niego.
Although the Chargers lost both of their exhibition games this fall, each game came down to the wire against Division I opponents. Hillsdale lost 67 – 61 to Oakland University on Oct. 24.
“It was an awesome experience for us to learn from them and how they play,” Niego said. “We learned what we need to do better to get to our NCAA tournament.”
Niego, along with senior guard Nate Neveau, were the leading scorers for Hillsdale, contributing 14 points each, several of which came from beyond the arc. Neveau shot 60 percent from the three-point line, and Niego shot 40 percent.
“Harrison is a very talented young man,” head coach John Tharp said. “The thing we were really happy with was that at first he missed some shots and turned it over, but then he got himself going and started getting comfortable. We need him this season.”
Niego credits the team’s offensive style for his shot opportunities.
“When we start running a good offense, there a lot of good shots to be taken,” Niego said. “We need to capitalize on them.”
After a 12-point scoring run by the Rockets during the first half, the Chargers didn’t give up. They countered with an eight-point scoring run of their own with two and a half minutes left to go. The lead was cut to seven, and Toledo led at halftime, 36 – 29.
“We had a really slow start,” Tharp said. “[Sophomore] Connor Hill gave us some good energy off the bench, which was kind of important because he got us going.”
A strong defensive performance came from senior forward Gordon Behr. He contributed five defensive rebounds and a steal. On the offensive side, he added five points and two assists.
“He’s one of the best defenders in Division II basketball,” Tharp said of Behr. “He’s long, he’s athletic, moves his feet and is disciplined as well. He does a lot of the little things that don’t show up on the box score.”
Behr said he thought the team’s performance was decent. The Chargers shot 40 percent overall and forced 13 Rockets turnovers while limiting their own turnovers to seven, 11 fewer than their first exhibition game.
“We had some stretches where we played well on both sides,” Behr said. “We showed we could do it for parts of the game, but we need to be able to maintain it.”
The Chargers will begin their regular-season this weekend in Springfield, Illinois. They will take on the University of Southern Indiana on Friday at 6:30 p.m. Then they will play the University of Illinois-Springfield on Saturday at 4 p.m.
“Those are two very good teams historically and they have a lot of good players coming back,” Niego said. “We’ve had a great fall and we’re ready to get after it.”