Despite a 19 – 2 run early in the first half, the Hillsdale College Chargers couldn’t hold on to an early lead and lost 75 – 70 to the University of Findlay Oilers at home on Saturday. The defeat snapped Hillsdale’s eight-game winning streak, and dropped the Chargers back to second place in the G-MAC, behind first-place Findlay.
Hillsdale’s superior field-goal percentage, fewer turnovers, and well-moving offense couldn’t match Findlay’s repeated trips to the free-throw line. The Oilers went 31 for 42 on free throws, compared to the Chargers’ seven for 11 performance. In a 40-minute game with 41 fouls called, each whistle and each point made a difference.
“The free-throw differential was pretty crazy, but we’ve had games like that in our favor,” sophomore guard Connor Hill said. “It’s not the refs’ faults. They’re human; they make mistakes. We didn’t lose because of the refs.”
Hillsdale held a 19 – 6 lead with 12 minutes to go in the first half, but the Oilers chipped away and eventually led 37 – 33 at halftime.
Sophomore forward Davis Larson started the second half strong with a quick layup to narrow the gap. His determination under the basket led him to a career-high 26 points.
“Whoever has the hot hand or is on, I think the coaches do a good job of getting the ball in their hands frequently,” Larson said. “In the game I wouldn’t say it was just me, it was a team effort.”
With eight and a half minutes to go, and down 56 – 47, the Chargers had to battle back from their largest deficit.
Larson drained a three and drove to the basket for a layup, while sophomore forward Austen Yarian added another layup to bring the Chargers within four, 58 – 54, with six and a half minutes to go.
After a crucial three by Hill and a pair of free throws by senior guard Nate Neveau, Hillsdale trailed by only one, 60 – 59.
Assistant coach Ryan Choiniere had to pull back ecstatic head coach John Tharp as he jumped and yelled from the half court line. In a crowd of more than 800 people — the largest of the season — Hillsdale’s student section, decked out in white, shared Tharp’s enthusiasm.
Larson gave the Chargers a brief lead at the free throw line with two more points.
But on the Oilers’ next possession, a costly shooting foul on a three-point attempt gave Findlay three points at the free throw line. The Oilers now led 65 – 61.
Hill aggressively drove to the basket to draw two more free throws with just over a minute left. Hillsdale was back in the game, 67 – 63, but Oilers went on to score five more points from the charity stripe to secure their lead. With 25 seconds remaining, Findlay led 72 – 63.
The Chargers made a last-chance attempt at victory with a three by senior guard Harrison Niego and a couple of layups by Hill and Yarian, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the Oilers.
“The disheartening thing is, we started off great pretty early on and Findlay took control, then we came back with 61 – 60 lead,” Tharp said. “We were proud that we just kept fighting and battling.”
Larson said the team learned from that game and will work to improve in the remaining five regular-season games.
“I think there were a lot of things that didn’t really go our way in that game, but we still only lost by five, so if they shot just 10 less free throws, we would’ve won that game,” Larson said. “It’s good to see how much we can improve from that game. We’ll have to fix defending without fouling. Whether the calls were fouls or not, we have to limit that. That’s kinda just how basketball works.”
With the win, Findlay (19 – 3) took over the top spot in the G-MAC with a 13 – 2 conference record. The Chargers fell to second place and are now 16 – 6 overall and 12 – 3 in the G-MAC.
Larson played his best game yet in his young career. In addition to his 26 points, he had three assists and four rebounds.
“We thought he was tremendous offensively,” Tharp said. “He did it in kind of different ways: hit some threes, penetrated and scored in the post, and from the free throw line a couple times. And thank God he did. It was him and Austen that were our two threats offensively throughout that game.”
Hill came off the bench with tons of energy and aggression to lead the Chargers with four assists and three steals, while adding 12 points. Yarian came off the bench to add 15 points and lead in rebounds with nine.
“The great things about it is their contributions off the bench have been so important,” Tharp said. “Who knows what it’s going to look like a week from now? You need guys like Connor and Austen to give us great minutes off the bench.”
On Saturday, the Chargers travel to Painesville, Ohio, to face the Lake Erie College Storm (14 – 8, 9 – 5 G-MAC). Tip-off is at 3 p.m.
According to Tharp, this will be a “good Lake Erie team” that has a great defense and a threatening scorer.
“They have a young man that’s gonna get a lot of shots up and we’ve gotta make sure it’s a low percentage game for him,” Tharp said.
Hill says he and his teammates are ready to take on the challenge.
“We’re pretty confident,” Hill said. “We won eight in a row before losing to the ninth-ranked team in the nation. We lost a tough game to a really tough team. There’s no reason to freak out.”