By RJ Walters / Daily News Sports Editor
As published in the Hillsdale Daily News on March 4, 2009
With a three seed and home game in the league tourney the 16-10 Hillsdale men’s basketball team had big plans, the kind athletes work their entire careers to achieve.
But in 40 short minutes everything changed thanks to a hot-shooting, hard working Michigan Tech team and a lethargic Chargers squad that may have played its last game this season, a 69-54 loss to the Huskies at Jesse Philips Arena.
Hillsdale’s intent to crash the GLIAC Tournament was short-lived and the plane tickets for a trip to a D-II NCAA Tournament game may never be printed.
The six-seed Huskies led the entire game Tuesday and built a 29-12 lead just 14 minutes into the contest, a margin that proved too deep even for a hot Chargers team.
“As much passion and heart as we played with last week I think we were just really just half a step slow and had sort of methodical look to us…and wrong time for that to happen to us,” Charger head coach John Tharp said.
“I think we were slow to everything. You saw it from the offensive glass, (where they out-rebounded us) 14 to 4 and I think they wanted it it a little bit more.”
The Huskies (14-14 overall) not only appeared to want it more, they rebounded and shot the ball better and put a dagger in several Charger runs with clutch 3-pointers from several different players.
As a team the Huskies shot 9-of-18 from beyond the arc, a world away from their 0-for-13 performance in a home loss to Hillsdale earlier this month, and they won the battle of the boards 38-20.
When senior guard Robby Springborn (12 points) and junior forward Georgio Holt (14 points, four 3-pointers) weren’t swishing jump-shots late in the shot clock, it was Fedrick Bowe working it in the post (10 points, eight rebounds) and the Huskies had too many answers for a Hillsdale team that had too many questions.
Tony Gugino scored 15 points and Keith MacKenzie put in 14, while freshman Tyler Gerber scored 10, but Hillsdale was just 4-of-18 on 3-pointers and had seven assists to 12 turnovers.
Ultimately though Tharp said it wasn’t really physical skills that made the difference, it was a a lot of poor decisions and a lack of continuous intensity.
“I just told our guys I think we just got caught up a bit in the GLIAC Tournament and the three seed and we fought so hard for that, and maybe we forgot to take a deep breath and just kind of forgot what we were doing well that allowed us to be in this position,” he said. “That’s a disheartening loss for us right there, from the standpoint of opportunity. You don’t get too many opportunities to host a first-round GLIAC game, and we didn’t play with much passion tonight.”
The loss has implications beyond being just another early exit from the league tournament though, it may be a season-ending defeat. The Chargers went into Tuesday’s contest ranked No. 8 in the latest Midwest Regional Poll and the top eight teams at the conclusion of conference tournaments qualify for the NCAA Tournament.
No .9 Kentucky Wesleyan won a game since the last poll came out and has the GLVC Tournament this weekend, while No. 10 Grand Valley State defeated Ferris State 67-49 in the first round of the GLIAC Tournament Tuesday night, setting up a semifinals date with Lake Superior State.
Tharp said he’s not completely giving up hope on a tournament bid, but admitted the odds are against it.
“Well you know what, right now we’re thinking we blew an opportunity. Tech played pretty (darn) well, they really did, and they made plays and really moved the ball, moved the ball and then made plays at the end of the possession,” he said. “So I think we had an opportunity not only to look at the NCAA Tournament, but also to win a game like this at home. Part of the process is for us to do that and then you can go to Findlay for one weekend and the thing is we don’t want this to end, because we had a good vibe and we felt like we were doing the right thing.”
Senior guard Travis Worst, one of five seniors who may have played their last collegiate game said it’s a hard proposition to consider.
“You never want to look back at the end of a season and look at your losses, but it’s hard not to do that right now and we’ll just have to see what happens,” he said.
Worst just shrugged his shoulders when asked why things went awry in such an important contest, but he said getting behind early was the last thing he and his teammates needed.
“We just didn’t come out with the intensity we have lately. We fell flat and couldn’t recover,” he said. “It’s always hard when you’re fighting and trying to comeback and the other team is making everything, but we had to do a better job of covering the gaps and getting on their shooters.”
The D-II tournament field is officially announced Sunday evening and the selections can be found on both ww.CSTV.com and http://www.GLIAC.org.