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.