None of the current members of the Hillsdale College men's basketball team knew much about ball screens or switching defenses back on January 24, 2002. But those same players ended a drought that extended way back to that day 17 years ago, with an inspired effort Saturday afternoon.
The Chargers knocked off 12th-ranked University of Findlay 93-82 at the Croy Gymnasium Saturday afternoon. The win was Hillsdale's first over Findlay at Findlay since that date back in 2002, ending a 21-game losing streak to the Oilers in one of Division II's toughest home courts.
The win was significant for other reasons. In addition to a victory on the road over a nationally ranked team, Hillsdale has now jumped into a first-place tie with Findlay in the Great Midwest Athletic Conference standings, both teams sitting at 8-2. Hillsdale is now 12-5 overall on the season and is on a four-game winning streak.
Over the past 17 years, Hillsdale has brought plenty of talented teams into the Croy Gymnasium. They've played well, gotten off to big leads, but were ultimately unable to finish off wins over a Findlay team that has always played the game with great talent, coaching and fundamentals. Those characteristics are just as present in this year's Findlay team, but on this day, this Charger team was relentless for all 40 minutes of the contest, and came away with a most significant victory.
Several things have to happen for a team in order to pull out a win in an arena as tough to play in as the Croy Gymnasium. Two of them are limiting turnovers and shooting the ball well. Check and check for the Chargers.
Hillsdale connected on 53 percent of its shots for the game (33-for-62) and went 9-for-14 from 3-point territory. But what might have made the biggest difference was going 18-for-19 from the free throw line. The Chargers didn't leave any easy points unscored out on the court, which is of supremem importance in a game like this.
Coming into the game, Hillsdale was one of Division II's most disciplined ball handling teams. Plus, Findlay excels at forcing turnovers and getting fast-break points, which always ignites its sell-out crowds and builds momentum. In this game, Hillsdale committed just 7 turnovers as a team and didn't allow any Oiler points off those turnovers. A remarkably disciplined performance in a hostile environment.
Another factor in this winning equation was getting balanced scoring. Five different players scored in double figures, including two coming off the bench. That kind of spread-out productivity helped keep the Chargers in control of the pace and momentum of the game throughout.
Leading the scoring charge was sophomore forward Davis Larson, who tallied a career-high 24 points. Larson was terrific, going 7-for-12 from the field, 3-for-3 from 3-point territory and 7-for-7 from the free throw line. He also picked up 7 rebounds, blocked 3 shots and swiped a pair of steals in 34 minutes on the court.
Senior guard Harrison Niego kept up his strong play of the past few weeks, tying his career-high with 22 points. He hit 7-of-11 shots from the field, made three 3-point buckets and made all five of his free throws.
Sophomore forward Austein Yarian came off the bench and was forced to play major minutes with some of Hillsdale's front court players battling foul trouble. He made his first three shots form the floor in the first half and finished with 16 points, 7 rebounds and 2 assists, going 7-for-9 from the field.
Guard Connor Hill gave the team invaluable production off the bench, scoring 10 points while making four of his six shots from the field. Junior guard Dylan Lowry scored 15 points and added 5 rebounds in a big-time performance for Hillsdale.
Hillsdale kept up a lead between 9 and 11 points through much of the second half, but the Oilers, as they always do, made a run to cut the lead to 76-74. The Chargers responded imprssively from there with a 10-2 run that opened up a more comfortable lead heading into the game's final minute.
The Chargers also outrebounded the Oilers 35-27, and their 93 points scored were the most allowed by Findlay all season.
PHOTO: Kyle Niermann/University of Findlay