The Hillsdale College Chargers waited for the very last second to put away the Lake Erie College Storm on Tuesday night in a one-point victory in the first round of the G‑MAC tournament.
With four lead changes in the game’s final three minutes, the Chargers battled to win 60 – 59 in their last home game of the season.
Hillsdale led by 11 with nine minutes remaining, but a 17 – 4 run by the Storm caused trouble for the Chargers. As the clock showed 2:53, the Storm made its second consecutive three to take the lead, 55 – 53.
Then junior guard Dylan Lowry made a jumper. Lake Erie responded with a jump shot of its own, but Lowry proved to be greater as he drained a deep three. It was 58 – 57 with just over a minute to go.
“I wanted to be as aggressive as possible without trying to force things,” Lowry said.
With 13 seconds left, the storm scored a layup off of a Hillsdale turnover. Trailing by one, the Chargers hustled down the court and Lowry made another jumper with six seconds left. It was 60 – 59 and the Storm had just enough time for one last shot. That’s when senior center Nick Czarnowski stepped in to save the game.
As Lake Erie went up for layup Czarnowski came down to block the shot. The buzzer blared, and the Chargers had advanced to the semi-final round of the G‑MAC tournament on Friday.
“I was looking at the ball and I was hoping I got high enough — I think I barely got high enough to tip it,” Czarnowski said. “Luckily Nate [Neveau] was there to get the rebound and get the ball out of there. It was kind of a block the shot or season-ending kinda time right there.”
Lowry led the Chargers in scoring with 16 after he scored Hillsdale’s last seven points of the game.
“He’s a fearless kid. He wants the ball in his hands in a late game situation,” head coach John Tharp said. “It’s a privilege and you’ve gotta make the right play. He’s done that for us.”
Sophomore forward Davis Larson put up 14 points, two assists, and two rebounds, and Czarnowski totaled 13 points and four rebounds. Senior guard Harrison Niego came off the bench to add seven points, two steals, and three rebounds.
Despite not scoring in his 29 minutes on the floor, Neveau’s presence was crucial. He snagged four rebounds, dished out five assists, and had three steals. His focus for the night was defending Lake Erie’s Gabe Kynard.
“Nate is our best defensive player around the perimeter,” Tharp said. “He gives us a lot of toughness and energy and [Kynard] did have 20 points, it was a hard 20 points.”
As a team, Hillsdale played aggressive, diving for every loose ball, leaping for every rebound, snagging nine steals, and scoring 16 points off turnovers.
After a “gut wrenching” loss on Saturday to Kentucky Wesleyan University, Tharp said Tuesday’s game would be a test of his team’s character.
“If you would’ve talked to us on Saturday after the game, we would’ve said, ‘What was that?’” Tharp said. “We didn’t think we played very inspired. It was one of our worst performances.
Tharp had a question for his team going into the game: “Is our character going to appear, and what is our character?”
The Chargers proved their toughness of character, and will have another chance to do so as they move deeper into the G‑MAC Tournament.
In Friday’s semifinal round they will take on Walsh University for the first time since Dec. 8 when the Chargers lost 63 – 59. Tip-off is at 8 p.m. Walsh is currently ranked no. 2 in the G‑MAC, while Hillsdale remains third.
The University of Findlay and Cedarville University also play on Friday, and if the Chargers can defeat Walsh, they will take on either Findlay or Cedarville in Saturday’s championship game.
“It feels like we didn’t even play them this year,” Lowry said. “It’s been four months since we played them. Both teams are so different since this point in the year. It’s going to be two completely different teams.”
Last time Hillsdale played Walsh, neither Yarian nor Neveau were active, and Czarnowski was coming off of an injury.
“We’ve been doing a lot of work since [Tuesday] to get back acquainted with them to figure out a game-plan,” Tharp said. “This time of year when you’re fighting and clawing, everything in the past is thrown out the window.”