The Hillsdale College Chargers defended their home court on Thursday and Saturday with victories against Tiffin University and Cedarville University. They now boast an eight-game winning streak with six games left in the regular season.
Against Tiffin on Thursday, the Chargers started strong but relinquished an early 11-point lead and began the second half trailing by two, 38 – 36. Hillsdale battled back from there with the help of a hyped-up crowd.
“We kinda came out and jumped them, but I thought we took a breath defensively,” head coach John Tharp said. “We’re a team that needs to rely on each other on the defensive end of the floor. There were such large gaps created and we weren’t there to help.”
With 13 minutes to go, senior forward Gordon Behr swatted the ball from the Dragons and junior guard Dylan Lowry snagged the rebound. The Chargers pushed the ball up the court and as the shot clock wound down, Behr launched a shot from beyond the arc to close the Chargers’ four-point deficit to one. Tiffin now led 55 – 54 and Hillsdale wasn’t backing down.
On the Dragons’ next possession, the Chargers created another turnover. This time, it was sophomore forward Austen Yarian with a steal. He made a risky pass to Lowry, who caught the ball in stride with defenders trailing him, to make the layup. The Chargers regained their control, 56 – 55. Sophomore guard Connor Hill continued the momentum with great intensity, leading to back-to-back jumpers.
“His great strength is that he’s really stubborn,” Tharp said of Hill. “He’s going to do everything he can to help us win. There are times he’s almost trying too much. He grew up small and has had to learn to create space. I thought he had his best week of basketball.”
Hill said he just played his own game the way he’s always played and things seemed to go his way.
“A lot of guys have stepped up this year and it was just my turn,” Hill said. “All of our success so far has been because we’re all bought in and ready whenever anyone’s asked to play.”
Hillsdale held on to its lead until, with five minutes remaining, Tiffin crept back with a jump shot to take a 69 – 68 lead.
The Chargers answered with a 9 – 0 run in the next four minutes. Lowry sparked the scoring with a three-pointer.
With only one minute left and the Dragons trailing by five, they were left with no choice but to foul. The Chargers, who shot 73 percent from the free throw line, went 4 – 4 from the charity stripe to close out the game for an 81 – 75 victory.
Statistically, these two teams appeared to be evenly matched. Both shot 49 percent from the field, had 10 turnovers, and scored 24 points off the bench. Tiffin scored 17 points off Hillsdale turnovers, while the Chargers only managed nine, but the Chargers outshot the Dragons from the three-point line by 15 percent and more than doubled Tiffin’s number of assists.
Sophomore forward Davis Larson said Tiffin had a tough press throughout the whole game which cost the Chargers several turnovers and rushed shots.
Senior center Nick Czarnowski led the Chargers in scoring with 17 points. Yarian snagged an impressive 11 rebounds and had five assists.
The Chargers came back on Saturday to play a disciplined game against Cedarville University for a 79 – 66 victory. Hillsdale only had five turnovers while forcing 16 from the Yellow Jackets.
With seven minutes to go in the first half, Cedarville made a three-pointer, prompting Hillsdale to call a timeout. The Chargers took the court determined and regained the lead by halftime, 38 – 35. The 19 – 9 scoring run began with a layup by senior guard Harrison Niego. A minute and a half later, Hillsdale had back-to-back three pointers. Four different players scored during the run.
The Chargers continued to pull away for the remainder of the game. With three minutes to go, they held a comfortable 15-point lead.
As a testament to the team depth cooperation, Hill and Yarian came off the bench to give their team valuable minutes. Hill added 12 points, earned three steals, and made two assists, and Yarian had 10 points, six assists, and four rebounds.
“Honestly it was all because of [senior guard] Nate Neveau,” Hill said of his motivation during the game. “Nate wasn’t able to play in that game because of an injury. He just kept saying that he knew I had his back and just play and be myself. Nate had a lot of confidence in me and I just wanted to do my part in getting a win so we can all get ready for this upcoming Saturday and the rest of the games to come.”
Larson led the Chargers in scoring with 18, and Niego added 17. Lowry added eight points and had seven assists.
“It’s been an incredible collective effort,” Tharp said. “We’re not a superstar-latent team. There’s a bunch of guys that have done it together.”
Hillsdale hosts G-MAC rival and ninth-ranked University of Findlay (16 – 5, 12 – 2 G-MAC) on Saturday at 3 p.m. The two teams are currently tied at 12 – 2 in conference play. The game will likely determine who hosts the G-MAC tournament in March.
“We’ve just got to focus on the simplest details,” Tharp said. “We’re not moving particularly well on defense, not getting to the gaps. We need to focus on playing team defense and transition defense. In February or March, you can’t take deep breaths or think that you’ve arrived. You have to be alert and ready to go.”
A strong defense will be key to stopping the Oilers on Saturday, according to Larson.
“The biggest thing Findlay does is dribble drives to open gaps,” he said. “At the end of the day, we know teams are going to make shots, our goal is to make each next shot tougher.”