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

The Hillsdale College men’s bas­ketball team fin­ished the 2019 – 20 regular season as co-cham­pions of the Great Midwest Ath­letic Con­ference after beating the Uni­versity of Findlay Oilers on their home court on Sat­urday, Feb. 29. Four days later, the Chargers entered the con­ference tour­nament as the no. 1 seed, hosting the no. 8 Ken­tucky Wes­leyan Pan­thers on Tuesday, to whom they lost 80 – 72.

Against the Pan­thers, the Chargers faced close com­pe­tition as neither team led by more than five points until deep into the second half. A Ken­tucky Wes­leyan three punc­tuated a key scoring run for the Pan­thers, putting them ahead 61 – 50 with just under six minutes remaining. From there, the Chargers played catchup. 

Junior forward Austen Yarian stopped the Pan­thers’ run with a layup and an and‑1, closing the deficit to eight. The Chargers con­tinued to battle back as junior guard Connor Hill and freshman forward Pat Cartier took turns making threes and layups.

It was 67 – 61 with 2:02 remaining when Yarian got a tech­nical foul — the third of the game as Hillsdale’s head coach John Tharp and Ken­tucky Wesleyan’s coach each earned one earlier — and the Pan­thers extended their lead by one. 

Things looked bleak from there, as the Pan­thers carried that momentum for the next minute, resulting in a 73 – 63 lead with 55 seconds remaining. The next 15 seconds, however, sparked a hope in the Chargers’ offense as Cartier scored a layup and got the and‑1, and senior guard Dylan Lowry came down on the next play to drain a three, closing the Panther’s lead to only four points with 39 seconds to go.

Tharp called his last timeout, leaving the Chargers to foul for the rest of the game, and that’s just what they did. Ken­tucky Wes­leyan took full advantage of that, shooting 7 – 8 from the stripe. Even back-to-back threes by Lowry weren’t enough to seal the victory. 

Lowry did go on to score 20 points in his final game as a Charger, however, along with four rebounds and one assist. He’ll go down in Hillsdale history as one of 38 Chargers to score more than 1,000 points in his career. 

The young Cartier led the team in scoring in Tuesday’s game with a 25-point per­for­mance that included eight rebounds and four assists, leaving him with a solid freshman year and much to look forward to in his next few seasons as a Charger.

“To be honest, I’m not really looking ahead very much right now,” Cartier said. “I’m pretty dis­ap­pointed at how the season ended and sad for our seniors.” 

Yarian and Hill each added 11 points. Yarian also had eight rebounds, while Hill had four assists and four steals.

“I’m really proud of our guys. When we think about those eight seniors we lost last year and we had a really tough non con­ference schedule. I think we played six of the eight regional qual­i­fying teams from last year,” Tharp said. “We really chal­lenged our guys and I thought we kept getting better and better.” 

Saturday’s game against Findlay was perhaps just as intense, but with a much happier ending as the Chargers defeated the Oilers for the second time this season. This was only the second time in the last 18 seasons that Hillsdale has won on the Oilers’ court.

“It felt amazing being regular season champs. It’s only Coach Tharp’s second time ever and our first in the G‑MAC, so it’s some­thing that we all will always remember,” Hill said. “The G‑MAC is a tough league so to be crowned as a champion is some­thing pretty special.”

It was an evenly-matched game, one that became heavily focused on defense and resulted in the Chargers’ lowest scoring game of the season, 59 – 54. Hillsdale barely edged out Findlay in the offensive sta­tistics cat­e­gories, winning the game with its defensive strength. 

“You know, we couldn’t hit a shot pretty much all game but we really hung our hat on our defense in that game,” Hill said. “We rebounded the ball extremely well and made plays when we had to. Pat was also extra­or­dinary per usual.”

Cartier led the team with 16 points, 11 rebounds, and two assists, earning him his second G‑MAC Men’s Bas­ketball Player of the Week award this season. His 64.3 shooting per­centage leads the con­ference, and he averaged 16.1 points and 6.1 rebounds per game. 

“Beating Findlay was awesome for all of us,” Cartier said. “They have had our number in the last few years and to flip the script this year was awesome. The atmos­phere was great and it was def­i­nitely one of the most fun games I’ve been a part of.”

Hill also added in 16 points, three assists, and two rebounds, while Yarian scored 11 and snagged eight rebounds and two steals. 

“I’m proud of the G‑MAC and to be con­ference champs,” Tharp said. “I’m dis­ap­pointed with our per­for­mance [on Tuesday]. That was a tough way for us to end, but when you look at the overall work we put in, we did a good job of getting better throughout the season.”

The Chargers finish their 2019 – 20 season with a 19 – 9 overall record, 15 – 3 in the G‑MAC. They will return three of their starting players, including Hill, Yarian, and Cartier. They’ll also have freshman forward Tavon Brown who became a much bigger factor in the Chargers’ offense, and junior forward Davis Larson who missed the season’s last seven games due to injury.