The Hillsdale Chargers and head coach John Tharp earned two more wins on the road last week. The Chargers are now 5 – 3 overall, and 2 – 0 in the G-MAC. For Tharp, Thursday’s victory marked his 400th career win.
Tharp came to Hillsdale in 2007 from Lawrence University, where he coached for 13 years. Since then, he has earned 197 wins with the Chargers. This makes him the winningest coach in Hillsdale men’s basketball program history, with an overall record of 197 – 117.
“You reflect on the great kids you have over your time, the players and the guys, specifically now at Hillsdale and what the’ve meant to me as players and people,” Tharp said. “It takes the tremendous assistant coaches that have done a ton. All three of them played here, so there’s a lot of gratitude for that.”
Tharp’s 400th win came in a close game at Cedarville University on Nov. 29. The Chargers battled back and forth with the Yellow Jackets for a 74 – 66 victory.
The win was Hillsdale’s first conference game and it came with many season-best performances. The Chargers shot a season-best 50.9 percent from the field. Senior guard Harrison Niego scored a season-high 22 points. Junior guard Dylan Lowry followed right behind with a season-high 19 points.
The Chargers had a close lead for much of the first half. Cedarville tied the score at 27 with 3:49 to go before halftime, but trailed Hillsdale 36 – 32 at halftime.
The Chargers started slow in the second half, and allowed Cedarville to take a brief 39 – 38 lead. The lead changed five times in a five-minute span. After a steal and a three from Lowry with six and a half minutes to go, the Yellow Jackets never came back.
“Lowry, in both games, made plays for us that got us going early and some big plays down the stretch,” Tharp said. “He had an exceptional week both offensively and defensively.”
Sophomore forward Davis Larson led the Chargers in rebounds with nine, and added seven points. Senior forward Gordon Behr filled nearly every category, adding 12 points, four rebounds, four assists, one block, and a steal.
With a quick turnaround, the Chargers were back on the road Saturday morning as they traveled to Tiffin University for their second conference game of the season. The result was another close, 78 – 71 victory for Hillsdale.
Although the Dragons made a three in the first 15 seconds of the game, the Chargers responded well with a 10 – 0 run, including threes from Behr and Lowry. The Chargers carried this momentum through the end of the first half, and led 41 – 31 at the break.
Hillsdale led by as many as 14 with just over 10 minutes left in the game, but after a few turnovers and fouls by the Chargers, Tiffin mounted a comeback. Hillsdale led by only three with just over three minutes to go in regulation.
At that point, Larson snagged a defensive rebound and drew a foul. He went two for two from the free throw line to get the Chargers back on track. Not long after the ball was back on Hillsdale’s end of the court, Niego grabbed an important offensive rebound and dished the ball to senior forward Jack Cordes, who drained a three to put Hillsdale ahead, 69 – 63 with a minute and a half left in the game.
Larson’s rebounding has been an important part in the Chargers’ success. He said with their two leading rebounders out because of injuries, he feels the need to step up and fill their role.
“I kind of had to change my role to guard bigger players or spend most of my effort during the game on the boards instead of trying to score,” he said. “You have to think ‘What’s the way to make our team better in its current state?’ For me, that’s to get a lot of rebounds.”
Tiffin was unable to respond and the Chargers maintained their lead to take the victory. Scoring was well distributed with five Chargers shooting in the double digits. Lowry led with 17, while Larson led in rebounding with seven. Niego and Behr each added 14 points and Connor Hill contributed 10, eight of which came from free throws. Niego played an aggressive game, with six steals and six rebounds as well.
“I’m really proud of our guys. We’ve had guys step up,” Tharp said. “Gordon Behr does all those little things not in the box score. Connor Hill was really solid with the ball when they started trapping us all over the place. Our unsung hero has been Jack Cordes. He made a big three and a big tip-in while they were playing hard defense.”
Both senior center Nick Czarnowski and senior guard Nate Neveau are battling through injuries and played very limited time last week.
“When you have two senior captains get injured, the team as a whole has to step up to fill the gap those guys leave,” Niego said. “It’s been a team effort in practice as well as games and I’m proud the way we have responded to guys being injured.”
Hillsdale will be home for its next two games. The Chargers host Malone University tonight at 7:30 p.m. On Saturday, Hillsdale takes on the Walsh University Cavaliers at 3 p.m. As the week ends, Tharp could be two games closer to his 200th Hillsdale win.
“I’m getting old,” Tharp said. “It’s been a long time and I’m thankful that Hillsdale keeps on letting me do it.”