Entering the season, the Hillsdale College men's basketball team was known for having lots of depth and talent at the guard position. But in Thursday's conference home opener, it was the big guy inside who led the team to victory.
Junior Nick Czarnowski scored a career-high 27 points, shooting 10-for-12 from the field, in the Chargers' 77-51 Great Midwest Athletic Conference win over Malone University. The win helps Hillsdale move to 2-1 in the conference and 8-2 on the season.
The Charger guards were looking to get the ball to Czarnowski early and often in this game, and he was dominant in the paint. Scoring 27 points on just 12 field goal attempts is optimum efficiency, and Czarnowski's teammates did a terrific job at being patient with their passes into the post, waiting for just the right angles before making an entry pass that would allow Czarnowski makeable shot attempts.
Czarnowski's inside efficiency also put Malone's big players in foul trouble, allowing Hillsdale to gradually extend its lead throughout the second half.
The Chargers entered halftime in control of the pace of play, holding a 34-26 lead. After a start to the game that saw Hillsdale struggle with turnovers, the team found its 3-point shooting range, going on a 13-2 run that flipped an early 6-0 deficit into a 13-8 lead. The Chargers never trailed again, answering every Malone burst with one of its own. The Pioneers trailed by 6, 42-36, with 13:14 left in the second half when the Chargers upped its defensive intensity, and allowed Malone just 9 points over the game's final 10 minutes and 11 seconds.
A focus of the Charger defense was Malone's Nate Sheppard, who entered the game as the G-MAC's leading scorer, averaging 20.7 points per game. Hillsdale removed him from the Malone offense, limiting him to just 2 points on 1-for-5 shooting from the floor. It's been that kind of disciplined, relentless defense that has been a key factor in Hillsdale's 8-2 start to the season.
Senior Ryan Badowski and junior Gordon Behr each scored 12 points for Hillsdale, while redshirt-freshman Davis Larson came off the bench to score 7, draining both of his 3-point shots. Behr was rugged all game, securing 11 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 blocks, while Czarnowski added 5 rebounds and 5 assists to his sparking stat line.