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Junior forward Austen Yarian shoots during a home game this season. (Calli Townsend | Col­legian)

The Hillsdale College Chargers stepped on the court as underdogs in a pair of home games last  week. Without their returning All-Con­ference forward Davis Larson who’s out due to injury, the Chargers took on two teams to whom they’ve already lost this season. But this week, Hillsdale changed the nar­rative and played with con­fi­dence and intensity to snag two wins, climbing back up in the con­ference rankings.

On Thursday, the Chargers came out strong to take a 13-point lead at the half, giving them just the edge they needed to beat the Walsh College Cav­a­liers 84 – 74. It was a close fought game, but Hillsdale’s team chem­istry with its ability to share the ball, create scoring oppor­tu­nities, and help on defense gave the Chargers just the advantage they needed.

“Sat­urday night when I finally got home I just sat there and was incredibly proud of our guys and the way they played that week,” head coach John Tharp said. “And with the loss of Davis, it was an emo­tional week for everybody and our guys really rallied around each other.” 

Walsh (20 – 4, 11 – 3) was not only ahead of Hillsdale in the con­ference rankings prior to Thursday’s game, but also sat at number 19 spot in the NCAA Division II men’s bas­ketball national rankings.  

They passed the ball for 19 assists, which is the second highest assist total this season. Head coach John Tharp always empha­sizes the impor­tance of passing the ball as part of their offense. Against Walsh the first time back in January, Hillsdale only had eight assists, and the team ended up losing 67 – 62.

Juniors Austen Yarian and Connor Hill each con­tributed four of the teams 19 assists during Thursday’s game, while also adding in 16 and 10 points, respec­tively. And freshman Pat Cartier played a solid game for his second double-double per­for­mance of the season. He had 11 rebounds and 17 points, not to mention two steals as well.

“We just played a beau­tiful game,” senior guard Dylan Lowry said. “We didn’t turn the ball over, the offense was clicking on all cylinders, and we did a good job of guarding a couple of their better players. We’re just really happy with how every­thing went.”

While Hillsdale led by 13 at the half, Walsh closed in during the game’s final five minutes. At one point, the Chargers were only up 69 – 63 and the Cav­a­liers called a timeout to decide their next move as to how to seal the win. The Chargers put a quick stop to that, however, coming out of the timeout with a 6 – 0 run. 

Lowry’s expe­rience and lead­ership proved to be effective as he scored nine of his 20 points in the last two and a half minutes of the game, four of which came from shooting 4 – 4 in free throws. 

“I like to have the ball in my hands at the end of the game if pos­sible,” Lowry said. “For me free throws are just all mental, it’s some­thing we practice so much. I’m con­fident enough to shoot them any time in the game so I just like to get the ball in my hands.”

Freshman forward Tavon Brown also played a big role in the Chargers’ victory as he came off the bench to add in nine points and eight rebounds as well. He shot two for two from behind the arc and dished out three assists. 

“It’s great. I thought he and [senior guard Mike] Travlos gave us great minutes. Tavon gives us a tremendous amount of ver­sa­tility. He played some three for us this weekend and he rebounded the bas­ketball and passed the ball really well,” Tharp said. “And Mike on Thursday scored weight points when Walsh was coming at us and I’m really proud of him. He’s taking advantage of this oppor­tunity. We need him to help us finish out this season.”

Thursday’s victory gave the Chargers the momentum they needed as they headed into Saturday’s game against Ohio Dominican Uni­versity. They out­per­formed the Pan­thers in every sta­tis­tical cat­egory as they won 79 – 67.

The contest didn’t start out that promising, however, as ODU scored the first seven points before the Chargers even got on the score­board. The first half became a game of catchup for Hillsdale, but the team responded well. 

The Chargers led by five at the 15:35 mark when Tharp called the timeout. When Hillsdale took the court again, the momentum shifted and the Chargers made their mark.

Travlos started things off with a three-pointer. A minute later, the Pan­thers still hadn’t scored when Hill stole the ball and passed it over to Brown for the dunk. And on Hillsdale’s next pos­session, Yarian punc­tuated the scoring run with another three. 

From there the Chargers led the rest of the game by a decent margin, never giving the Pan­thers another chance at a comeback. 

The team had 17 more assists in that game, along with four steals and 30 rebounds. Cartier and Yarian led the team with scoring with 20 and 18 points, respec­tively. Most of Yarian’s points came from beyond the arc, as he shot 5 – 8 for threes. 

“I def­i­nitely feel like it causes a lot of problems for other teams,” Yarian said of his shooting abil­ities. “When I am hitting my shots from the three-point line, it spaces the floor so much more and allows our guards to get driving lanes and our other bigs to have easy post touches.”

Lowry took advantage of this extra spacing and scored 12 points as well, while Hill and Brown each added four and three assists, respec­tively. 

“It feels awesome after losing Davis that we still banded together as a team to beat two really good teams that we lost to earlier in the season,” Yarian said. “I think it gives us a lot of con­fi­dence. We’re in a really good place team-wise along with pos­sibly hosting the G‑MAC Tour­nament so that gives us extra moti­vation.”

The Chargers are now number two in con­ference rankings behind the Uni­versity of Findlay. Hillsdale beat Findlay 77 – 65 back on Dec. 14 in one of the first con­ference games of the season. That time was on the Chargers’ home court. Next game they’ll travel to Findlay, but that’s not until Feb. 29. Before then, Hillsdale has two more home games against Cedarville and Tiffin Uni­ver­sities. 

“It’s going to be easier to have con­fi­dence after two big wins but they’ve had a very good season and they’re incredibly tal­ented,” Lowry said of Cedarville. “We’re going to have our hands full. Their place is an incredibly tough place to play, so luckily we get to play them at home.”

Hillsdale hasn’t played Cedarville yet, but the Yellow Jackets sit in the number four spot in the G‑MAC with a con­ference record of 11 – 3, and an overall record of 16 – 8. Tiffin on the other hand, is ranked 11th in the con­ference. Hillsdale beat the Dragons on their court 95 – 71 on Jan. 9.