If the 2017-18 Hillsdale College men's basketball team has a "typical game," Thursday night's win over Kentucky Wesleyan matched many of those elements.
It was also a first for the Chargers, who picked up a win over the Panthers for the first time ever, 74-63, before a boisterous crowd at the Dawn Tibbetts Potter Arena. Hillsdale now stands at 16-4 overall and 10-3 in conference play.
So what are some of the common elements of success for this year's team?
Play tough defense? Check. Hillsdale held the Panthers to 13 points below their scoring average for the season.
Take over the game in the second half? Check. After trailing by as many as nine in the first half, the Chargers closed the first half on a 7-2 run, then opened the second half on a 7-0 spurt to take the lead for good. Hillsdale outscored Kentucky Wesleyan 43-30 in the game's final 20 minutes.
Make your free throws? Check. The Chargers came into the game as the G-MAC leader in free throw percentage, and only added to that number thanks to a magnificent performance in that aspect of the game.
As Hillsdale built momentum throughout the second half, it did a better job of getting to the basket, forcing quick turnovers and manufacturing open shots within the team's motion offense. That forced the Panthers to foul more often, and the Chargers made them pay. Hillsdale went a season-best 26-for-29 from the free throw line, a mark of 89.7 percent. Leading the way were two of the team's coolest customers, junior Nate Neveau and senior Ryan Badowski.
Neveau started out the game hot from the floor, making his first three shots and helping the offense to stay afloat as it struggled making shots in the first half. Eventually, Neveau found more driving lanes to the basket and wore out a path to the free throw line. He made all 10 of his free throws, finishing with 21 points and 4 steals in 37 hard minutes on the floor.
Badowski got involved early in the game in every way, matching the Panthers' athleticism and physicality. He also consistently got to the line in the second half, finishing the game by making 10 of his 11 shots from the charity stripe, leading to a game-high 24 points. He also drained four 3-point baskets. Badowski strongly imprinted his will on this game, collecting 5 rebounds while swiping a career-high 5 steals for the Chargers.
Hillsdale managed to win this game despite shooting just 32 percent from the floor. A 26-10 scoring edge at the free throw line certainly helped, and Hillsdale grabbed 12 offensive rebounds while committing five fewer turnovers than the Panthers.