Almost 10 years ago to the day, John Tharp made his head coaching debut with the Hillsdale College men's basketball program. He didn't graduate from the college, hadn't coached against the Chargers, and lost his entire freshman class from the season before. To say he faced a challenge was an understatement.
Now, the man affectionately known as "Roundie" stands alone in program history.
Hillsdale defeated the University of Illinois-Springfield 74-63 Saturday night at Malone University as part of the G-MAC/GLVC Challenge. The win makes the Chargers 2-0 on the season, and gives Tharp his 173rd coaching win, eclipsing the old record of 172 held by Ron Halsted.
Over the past decade, Tharp has built a specific culture within his program, where teammates fight through a wall for one another and make it a habit of overcoming opponents that might be regarded as bigger, faster or better on a regular basis. A scrappy coach, Tharp has built teams made in his image and the success he's had with the program over the past 10 years is unique in Charger history.
Tharp has had two 20-win seasons in his Hillsdale tenure, and a third is looking like a bigger possibility after the team put together a pair of impressive victories to open the season. The second of those wins came over the Prairie Stars in a game Hillsdale led from start to finish.
Thanks to five 3-point first-half field goals by senior Ryan Badowski, Hillsdale built a 42-29 lead at halftime. Badowski made his first five straight shots from behind the arc, and finished with a game-high 26 points, just one off his career-high.
Although UIS outscored Hillsdale 34-32 in the second half, the Chargers did a good job at limiting the Stars' second-shot opportunities, and kept the pace well under control for a team playing with the lead.
As Badowski got the team going, the Chargers looked inside for its offense later in the game, and junior Nick Czarnowski delivered. Czarnowski had 12 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 blocked shots. He made a handful of shots in the lane as the second half wore on, keeping Hillsdale comfortably ahead.
Junior guard Nate Neveau and senior guard Stedman Lowry scored 11 points each, with Neveau again delivering a strong all-around game with 7 rebounds, 5 assists and no turnovers in 31 minutes on the floor.
Hillsdale held the Stars to 43 percent shooting from the field and held a 35-32 rebounding edge. UIS was just 5-for-20 from 3-point land in the game.