The Hillsdale College Chargers’ season ended with a 65 – 59 loss to the Walsh University Cavaliers in the G-MAC tournament semifinal on March 8. They finish with a 19 – 10 record overall, and went 14 – 6 against conference opponents.
The Chargers tied the game at 50 with six minutes to go, but they failed to top the Cavaliers who went on a 15 – 9 run to end the game. They only shot 37 percent from the floor which is only five percent better than their season worst, but they did tie a season-best in turnovers with just four.
Junior guard Dylan Lowry led the team in scoring with 17 points. Sophomore forward Davis Larson led with four assists and two steals. Sophomore forward Austen Yarian and senior center Nick Czarnowski added 10 and 12 points, respectively.
Hillsdale finished third in the regular-season conference standings, behind no. 1 Findlay University and no. 2 Walsh, who played each other in the G-MAC tournament championship and both advanced to the NCAA Division II national tournament.
Larson earned a spot on the G-MAC All-Conference first team. Larson finished the season averaging 12.2 points and 5.2 rebounds per game. He was named G-MAC Men’s Basketball Player of the Week on Jan. 21 after scoring 24 points and seven rebounds to beat Findlay on Jan. 19.
“It’s always pretty cool to get recognized for that, but you look at the team success and you wish you could get a team award like a conference championship or make it to the NCAA tournament,” Larson said. “It makes me want more, like, ‘What can I get better at?’”
Lowry was named G-MAC second team All-Conference. Lowry stepped into a large scoring role this year, averaging 13.1 points a game.
“It was the first time those guys started this year,” head coach John Tharp said. “Dylan had to shoulder a ton of responsibility with Nate Neveau being hurt. He had to score the basketball, and so did Davis. I’m proud of those guys and their growth this year.”
The 2018 – 19 season looked promising from the start, as the Chargers had two close losses against NCAA Division I opponents in exhibition games. They then went 3 – 3 before beginning conference play.
The Chargers were strong through the month of December, as they won four of five games before winter break.
As January rolled around, the Chargers began what would become an eight-game winning streak that lasted from Jan. 5 through Feb. 2, which led them to a 16 – 5 overall record and a tie for the no. 1 spot in the G-MAC.
The streak included a historic win against Findlay, which senior guard Harrison Niego called that game his favorite memory of the year.
“Just in the manner we did it — in the midst of win streak, different guys step up in key roles — and we did something Hillsdale hadn’t done in a while, so we got to make history,” Niego said.
In the final four minutes of that game, Hillsdale led by only two points, but the Chargers didn’t settle for a small margin of victory. They went on a 17 – 8 run to close the game on top, 93 – 82.
The Chargers achieved much of their success this season amidst many trials. They started the season without the impact of Yarian and Czarnowski was coming back from an injury.
Not long after Czarnowski was nearing full strength and Yarian returned, Neveau found himself on the bench with an injury of his own. He sat out beginning Dec. 1, but he was back in time to help his team defeat Ohio Dominican University on Jan. 12.
“We faced some adversity this year. From injuries and other things that occurred, the majority of the season our guys fought hard,” Tharp said. “The thing I’m most proud of was that it was truly a team effort for the majority of the year. We had a bunch of guys that stepped up and made plays.”
Tharp said his team was at its best when its number of assists was high and its defensive game was strong; a testament to the team’s depth. On average, three different players would score in double digits.
In the Chargers’ biggest victories of the year, their stats proved Tharp’s theory. During the 79 – 48 victory against Ohio Valley University on Feb. 21, the Chargers had 20 assists, five steals, and nine blocks. Against Trevecca Nazarene University on Feb. 28, they tallied 21 assists, seven steals, and four blocks. They also scored 27 points off turnovers, and the bench contributed 36 points to the 78 – 52 victory.
Hillsdale graduates eight seniors this year, four of who were team captains.
“Those eight seniors took care of so many different little problems,” Tharp said. “They’re leaders, they solved things. I couldn’t have asked for better guys. They represented us so well, those are big shoes to fill for our young guys.”
Larson said he’s looking forward to filling those shoes.
“I feel with the change of scenery with the change of faces and the new leadership role will keep me motivated,” Larson said. “There’s always something to get better at and strive for.”
The Chargers had three freshman who redshirted this season and three more freshman entering the program next year.
“It’s obviously Larson and Lowry, and Yarian and [sophomore guard] Connor Hill who gave us some good minutes,” Tharp said. “We’re going to have some young guys we haven’t seen yet that will have an opportunity to be good as well.”
Next season the Chargers will look to carry on the team’s strength and depth, as it proved to be a key asset for the 2018 – 19 team.
“It was awesome, I had a lot of fun. It was a very unique team to be on. A bunch of different guys contributed throughout the year,” Niego said. “It makes it a lot of fun because everyone’s so engaged and invested in how the team does. I tried to enjoy every moment of it. Obviously you wish you could’ve gone farther, but I’ll remember the bus rides and moments in the locker room most.”