For the first time in six years, the Hillsdale College men's basketball team will play for a conference championship.
The Chargers advanced to Saturday's Great Midwest Athletic Conference title game by virtue of a 75-63 win over Lake Erie College Friday night in Findlay. Tipoff for the tournament championship game will be at 2 p.m.
As it has done all season, Hillsdale earned this victory the hard way, getting it done on the defensive end of the floor. A characteristic "defensive run" was key to Hillsdale holding off a Lake Erie team that played with great spirit and energy.
The Storm held a 50-49 lead with 12:11 to go in the second half. Lake Erie used a 12-0 run of its own to briefly take its first lead since the game's early moments.
That's when the Hillsdale defense got down to business. Over the game's next nine minutes, the Chargers held the Storm to six points, during which time the Chargers scored 22, flipping the one-point deficit into a healthy double digit lead, one it would never relinquish.
The Chargers stayed aggressive on offense throughout the game, and setting that tone was senior Ryan Badowski. He consistently took the ball to the basket, and either got fouled or converted layups. He finished with a game-high 28 points, going 8-for-14 from the field, making four 3-pointers and 8-for-11 from the free throw line.
Another big factor in the win was the play of junior point guard Nate Neveau. He played a classic Neveau game, active on the boards, setting up the offense and crashing the boards effectively for a player of his size. But stats don't measure the size of the heart Neveau played with in helping lead his team to a postseason win.
Neveau finished with 14 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, a block and a steal with no turnovers in 35 superb minutes on the floor. He played with burst and energy, and smartly distributed the basketball when Lake Erie increased its pressure in the game's final minutes.
Hillsdale outrebounded Lake Erie 35-28 and outscored the Storm 20-9 from the free throw line.