By BRIAN LESTER
Dylan Kaufman watched as his second free throw attempt bounced off the rim. It was a big miss late in the game Saturday in a tight Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference battle between the University of Findlay and Northern Michigan.
Fortunately, Kaufman got a second chance to aid the 15th-ranked Oilers. Alphonso Baity grabbed the rebound and kicked out to a wide-open Kaufman.
The ball found nothing but net and the Oilers had an eight-point lead with under six minutes to play. The shot didn’t win the game but it made a difference in UF’s 78-69 victory over the Wildcats at Croy Gymnasium.
“I missed the foul shot and I was down a little bit,” Kaufman said. “But Alphonso gave me the perfect pass and I was open. I let it go and hoped it was going in because I wasn’t shooting the greatest until then.”
Kaufman’s trey, which extended the UF (6-1, 3-1 GLIAC) lead to 69-61, was one of the highlights of a stellar effort by the sophomore guard who torched NMU for a career-best 20 points on 6 of 11 shooting from the field.
He also pulled down a career-high eight rebounds and racked up four steals.
Kaufman fueled his performance with all-out effort, playing aggressive on defense and battling for rebounds. He scored on two put-backs in the second half, including one where he tipped the ball back in as he drew a foul while falling to the floor. Kaufman hit the free throw and the Oilers led 53-40.
“Coach has been harping on me about rebounding,” Kaufman said. “I’m tall for a guard and I know those rebounds can help our team. I go to the boards and at times it leads to points. That is a plus.”
UF head coach Charlie Ernst isn’t surprised Kaufman stepped up.
“Dylan is a very good listener,” Ernst said. “Some players don’t hear what you are trying to tell them, but Dylan focuses on what you are telling him. I got on him about his defense this week, and the last two games, he has probably been our best defender.”
And defense leads to success.
“It never fails. When you are engaged on defense, everything else falls into place,” Ernst said. “He was active on defense and his shots went in. I’m happy for him because we needed every one of those points.”
Indeed the Oilers did against the Wildcats (1-6, 0-3). NMU never backed down when UF went in front by double digits. With six minutes to play, the Wildcats were within 65-61 on a jumper by Justin Newell.
The Wildcats, playing determined all afternoon, shot 41 percent (25-of-61) from the field, forced 16 turnovers and got 25 points from its bench.
Chavis Mattison led the Wildcats with 21 points. Ethan Blackwell scored 18 and Newell added 14 points. Those three made sure the Oilers didn’t run away with the win.
“They came in here with nothing to lose and had a week to prepare for us,” Ernst said. “They probably felt like they could come in and not be afraid to take shots or make plays. Even though we had the lead, I felt like they had us on our heels most of the night.”
The Oilers, though, were able to dig in defensively down the stretch to preserve the win, forcing tough shots and hitting seven free throws in the final minute, including two by Kaufman.
“They had confidence because of how they were shooting the ball, but we were able to make some plays to stay ahead and get the win. Everything starts with defense, and we played well late in the game.”
Back-to-back 3-pointers by Alphonso Baity and Kaufman gave the Oilers an early 8-3 lead and they went in front 22-13 on a dunk by Quaran Jones with a little over 12 minutes remaining.
UF extended its lead to 14 on a layup off a steal by Kaufman, but the Wildcats refused to fold, chipping away at the deficit. Two big treys by Mattison cut the Oilers’ advantage to 37-30.
John Staley helped make sure the Oilers stayed in front. He scored on a layup as Sean Samsel threw the ball inside to him instead of taking a 3-pointer and the Oilers had a 41-33 lead. Jake Heagen cut right past the defense and to the basket for a layup that put UF in front 43-33 at the half.
Staley, a transfer from Northern Kentucky, finished with 7 points and 3 rebounds and took advantage of every minute he got off the bench. He even took a moment to help the ball boy mop up the sweat during a break in the action.
“I feel like if I play hard, go out there and give it my all, everything else will take care of itself,” Staley said. “It starts with playing hard and that is what I try to do every game.”
Heagen clicked for 12 points, pulled down six rebounds and tallied four assists. Baity finished with 11 points, his third straight game in double figures, while Greg Kahlig scored 10. The Oilers held a 17-8 edge in second-chance points and forced 17 turnovers.
Even with the balanced attack, though, the Oilers could never quite put away the Wildcats until the end.
“They did a good job of breaking us down off the dribble,” Ernst said. “They also took advantage of some matchups, guarding Greg with a smaller player, and it worked really well. But we had other guys step up.”
UF is off until next Saturday when it welcomes Notre Dame College to town for a 1 p.m. nonconference game at Croy Gymnasium. It’s the final game of 2013 for the Oilers.
“Anytime you get a win in the GLIAC, it feels good,” Kaufman said. “It doesn’t matter if I score no points or 20. As long as we win, I’m happy.”
northern michigan (1-6, 0-3 GLIAC)
Newell 6-16 0-2 14, Havercamp 1-2 0-0 2, Blackwell 7-14 3-3 18, Nash 2-6 1-4 5, Hall 2-6 1-1 5, Smith 0-1 0-0 0, Foster 0-4 4-4 4, Taylor 0-1 0-0 0, Huss 0-1 0-0 0, Mattison 7-10 4-4 21. TOTALS: 25-61 13-18–69.
findlay (6-1, 3-1 Gliac)
Heagen 3-9 6-6 12, Kahlig 1-9 8-8 10, Frilling 3-5 2-5 8, Baity 3-6 3-5 11, Kaufman 6-11 6-7 20, Gardner 0-1 4-6 4, Samsel 0-0 0-0 0, Smith 0-2 2-2 2, Staley 3-5 1-2 7, Jones 2-3 0-0 4. TOTALS: 21-51 32-41–78.
HALFTIME: Findlay, 43-33.
3-Point GOALS: Northern Michigan 6-17 (Mattison 3-4, Newell 2-6, Blackwell 1-2, Nash 0-1, Smith 0-1, Huss 0-1, Hall 0-2); Findlay 4-15 (Baity 2-3, Kaufman 2-5, Smith 0-1, Kahlig 0-3, Heagen 0-3).
rebounds: Northern Michigan 35 (Mattison 7); Findlay 41 (Kaufman 8, Kahlig 7, Heagen 6). ASSISTS: Nothern Michigan 9 (Blackwell 4); Findlay 14 (Heagen 4, Kahlig & Baity 3). STEALS: Northern Michigan 10 (Blackwell & Nash 3); Findlay 7 (Kaufman 4). BLOCKS: Northern Michigan 1; Findlay 3.
TURNOVERS: Northern Michigan 17, Findlay. TOTAL FOULS: Northern Michigan 30, Findlay. FOULED OUT: Northern Michigan, Smith & Havercamp.
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