The Hillsdale College Chargers fell in a close defensive battle against the Lake Erie College Storm on Saturday, 53 – 52. The Chargers’ offensive output was their lowest in a game this season.
“Going to Lake Erie is always a tough environment,” senior guard Harrison Niego said. “It was their senior night. Teams always want to make it a memorable one, so we knew it was going to be a difficult one.”
In what was a hard-fought game, sophomore Davis Larson got a bloody nose and senior Nate Neveau caught a black eye.
The Storm started off the game with a 7 – 0 run against the Chargers. By the end of the first half, Hillsdale closed the deficit to three, 26 – 23.
With four lead changes and more than three minutes of a tie game in the second half, the game came down to the last minute. Niego made a three to tie the game at 50 with a minute and a half to go.
Lake Erie made a three and Hillsdale answered with a layup with 48 seconds remaining. Down by one, 53 – 52, the Chargers called a timeout with 10 seconds left on the clock. They got back on the court to take their final shots at victory, but they missed all three.
“We played great defense. Most of the time if you can hold a team to 50 points you can win the game, but our shots just weren’t falling, so our area to improve on would be offense,” Niego said. “I think we’ve gotta stay confident. We’ve got good scorers, and when your scorers are confident, they knock down good shots. We’ve gotta get our swagger going again.”
Senior forward Nick Czarnowski led the Chargers with a season-high 10 rebounds. Junior guard Dylan Lowry and Niego each put up 13 points and combined for four assists. Sophomore forward Austen Yarian played well on both ends of the court with eight rebounds and seven points.
“Offensively we were not very good,” head coach John Tharp said. “It was a collection of things. We turned the ball over a little more than we’re accustomed to, we didn’t make Lake Erie work on the defensive end, and we didn’t make shots. It was an interesting game because there were opportunities we’d normally take advantage of that we didn’t really take.”
Tharp also said the Chargers struggled to run the offense the way the normally like to.
“Our timing hasn’t been right. When our movement isn’t happening at the right time, when we’re not reading the defense and screening very well,” Tharp said. “We play a high IQ game, so we give you some freedom but you’ve gotta read how you’re being guarded.
One of the few redeeming qualities of the Charger’s offense on Saturday was their ability to shoot behind the arc. They shot 32 percent from the field for 25 points, while 27 points came from a 9 – 24 performance from beyond the three-point line.
“The way our offense runs we do get a lot of threes, but we stress inside first,” Lowry said. “The more we get it inside than not, the better things go. We had a lot of good looks, we can’t complain. They really packed it in.”
Their first two scores of the game came from threes by Niego and sophomore guard Connor Hill. Neveau made a three in the first half to give the Chargers their first lead, 21 – 19, and Lowry’s three with six minutes left in regulation gave the Chargers their last lead of the game, 47 – 44.
Saturday’s loss bumps Hillsdale down to third place in the G‑MAC, behind Findlay (20 – 3, 14 – 2 G‑MAC) and Walsh (19 – 7, 14 – 4 G‑MAC). The Chargers are now 12 – 4 in the G‑MAC with four conference games remaining in the regular season.
Tharp said he hopes the loss motivates his team for the next two games on the road.
“We hope it fuels them. At this time of year you can’t feel sorry for yourself,” Tharp said. “They’ve worked so hard since they arrived on campus in September. Here we are, we have four regular-season games left.”
This week the Chargers will take a road trip to play Ohio Valley on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. and Ohio Dominican on Saturday at 3 p.m. Hillsdale has already beat these teams at home this season, 80 – 60 and 67 – 65, respectively.
Lowry said the key to a pair of victories this weekend will be a solid defense.
“We play our best offense when we’re really dialed in on defense,” Lowry said. “That’s where it’ll start.”