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Lauren Daf­fenberg shoots in a game earlier this season. (S. Nathaniel Grime | Col­legian)

The Hillsdale College Chargers couldn’t quite break through in a narrow 69 – 64 road loss to the Uni­versity of Findlay Oilers on Sat­urday. The defeat drops Hillsdale (8 – 9, 6 – 5 G-MAC) back below the .500 mark for the first time since Dec. 18, when the team was 5 – 6.

The Oilers led by just two at halftime, 41 – 39, after a closely con­tested first half. The Chargers scored only 10 points in the third quarter, however, allowing Findlay to take a 57 – 49 lead entering the final quarter. A 12 – 3 scoring run at the beginning of the quarter briefly put Hillsdale ahead, 61 – 60, but the Oilers ended the game on a 9 – 3 run to retake the lead and seal the victory.

“We had some empty pos­ses­sions where we just didn’t get enough movement or enough screens where we didn’t get the same quality shots as we did early,” head coach Matt Fritsche said.

Fritsche said he was pleased with his team’s per­for­mance on defense throughout the game. The Chargers had an entire week to prepare for Findlay, but rather than spending the extra time watching more film than usual, they cap­i­talized on more oppor­tu­nities to fine-tune their defensive approach throughout the week in practice.

“I think we’re going to plan on going forward with the balance we had last week, making sure we focus enough on our­selves, espe­cially early in the week on getting better,” Fritsche said. “We need to focus on our own improvement as much as any­thing.  We’re all on the same page there.”

Hillsdale out-rebounded Findlay, 41 – 39, but the Oilers grabbed 13 offensive rebounds to the Chargers’ nine. Freshman guard Lauren Daf­fenberg said the Oilers’ second-chance shots down the stretch were pivotal.

“Late in the game, we gave up some offensive rebounds,” Daf­fenberg said. “But the biggest thing was we didn’t really play our game.”

The Chargers’ offensive mantra, which includes movement around and away from the ball and com­mu­ni­cation on the court, was less evident than usual down the stretch, senior forward Makenna Ott said.

“We just kind of had some panic sit­u­a­tions. We made some mis­takes under stress,” Ott said. “But I think as we go forward, having that expe­rience is going to be really good for us in the long run.”

That expe­rience of playing down to the wire against a quality opponent isn’t some­thing the Chargers are entirely unused to. But having it happen again on Sat­urday was as much of a reminder as any­thing that to get over the bump against a premier team, laser-sharp focus and mistake-free bas­ketball are of the foremost impor­tance.

“It gave us the real­ization that we have to do that for every single game, even when we have two games in a week,” Ott said. “Findlay’s a good team, but we know we can beat them, and we were right there with them.”

Ott led the Chargers with 17 points, making eight of 11 shots from the field and three of eight three-pointers. She also grabbed eight rebounds and blocked four shots.

Senior forward Brittany Gray added 15 points, and senior guard Allie Dewire scored 12 points. Ott, Gray, and Dewire, the only trio of team­mates in the G-MAC to average more than 12 points per game, con­tinued to pace Hillsdale’s scoring attack.

Daf­fenberg sunk three three-pointers for nine points. She’s come off the bench in all 17 games this season, but is second on the team in three-pointers made and fourth on the team in points scored. Fritsche called her an “elite shooter”.

“I guess that’s kind of how I expected it — to play some minutes and come in to hit a shot when nec­essary,” Daf­fenberg said of her role this season.

Hillsdale has dropped three of its last four games after a season-long four game winning streak from Dec. 13 to Jan. 3. Fritsche said his team’s goal remains the same as it was before the season began: to peak at the end of the year. The G-MAC tour­nament begins March 7.

“This is an urgent time for us, but I don’t feel pressed or panicky about it,” Fritsche said. “I know that our destiny is still in our own control.”

Since it’s unlikely the Chargers would be able to qualify for the NCAA Division II Tour­nament based solely on their record, that destiny would be a G-MAC tour­nament cham­pi­onship. The Chargers, who won the G-MAC tour­nament last year as the fifth-seeded team in the con­ference, are cur­rently in sixth place in the G-MAC despite being pre­season favorites to finish first in the regular season standings.

The Chargers travel to Owensboro, Ken­tucky to take on the Ken­tucky Wes­leyan College Pan­thers tonight at 6:30 p.m. The Pan­thers have won nine con­sec­utive games, and are 13 – 3 on the season and 9 – 1 in the G-MAC. Only Cedarville Uni­versity (14 – 3, 10 – 1 G-MAC) has a better con­ference record than Ken­tucky Wes­leyan.

Without a sig­nature win against a top-shelf opponent this season, tonight presents another oppor­tunity for the Chargers. The Pan­thers are the G-MAC’s most improved team this season after going 11 – 11 in the con­ference in 2017 – 2018. Hillsdale beat Ken­tucky Wes­leyan twice last year, including a 64 – 56 win on the road.

On Sat­urday, the Chargers visit the Trevecca Nazarene Uni­versity Trojans in Nashville, Ten­nessee. Tip-off is at 3:00 p.m. against the Trojans, who are 6 – 10 this season and 5 – 5 in the G-MAC. Hillsdale split two games against Trevecca Nazarene last season.

“In this con­ference, you know that any game is up for grabs,” Daf­fenberg said. “The con­fi­dence is always there knowing if we play a good game, you can beat any team in the con­ference.”