By BRIAN LESTER
ALLENDALE, Mich. — Greg Kahlig had the ball in his hands at the top of the 3-point line as the precious final seconds continued to tick away in a tight game between the University of Findlay and Grand Valley State.
Kahlig has never been afraid to shoot the ball, and despite being guarded with the Oilers trailing 77-74, he let a shot go, knowing how desperately his team needed a big play in a pressure-packed moment.
The ball never found the rim with 13 seconds to play.
Hope for a win all but faded in that moment as the No. 12 Oilers went on to suffer their second consecutive loss, falling 81-76 to the Lakers on Saturday afternoon in a pivotal Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference battle at the GVSU Fieldhouse Arena.
“I felt like I could have gotten it,” Kahlig said. “The ball slipped out of my hands a little bit and it didn’t go in. Grand Valley made a great defensive play, and unfortunately, we lost tonight.”
Moments earlier, UF (7-3, 3-3 GLIAC), once ahead by 10 in the second half and the owners of a 69-61 lead with just under five minutes remaining, was pushed to the brink of defeat by Darren Kapustka.
Kapustka worked himself open with 18 seconds remaining and nailed a 3-pointer that triggered an eruption of cheers from the crowd of 1,021 and nudged the Lakers (9-1, 5-1) in front 77-74.
The shot was part of a furious comeback where Luke Ryskamp hit a 3-pointer and Ricardo Carbajal made seven of his eight free throws, including two that tied the game at 74-all.
UF has now lost two consecutive games — the Oilers were beaten 85-81 on Thursday by Ferris State on the road — and the most frustrating thing about both outcomes is the inability to play at a high level down the stretch.
“I have no problem with our effort. We played well for about 34-35 minutes in both games,” UF head coach Charlie Ernst said. “But our inability to execute, finish defensive possessions, protect the ball, take good shots and communicate on defense in the last five minutes added up and we lost. You have to be able to do those things well, especially on the road.”
Kahlig had done what he could to put the Oilers in a position to win the game in a building that has typically been a difficult place for UF to win.
The senior forward scored the last 10 points of the first half, including a 3-pointer from well beyond 30 feet that swished through the net and catapulted the Oilers to a 31-30 lead at halftime.
With the Oilers clinging to a 43-42 lead, Kahlig got on a roll again, driving to the basket for a layup as he drew a foul. He ht the free throw and then followed up with a 3-pointer.
A jumper with a hand in his face, two free throws and a 3-pointer gave the Oilers a huge 56-46 advantage with 12:20 to play, in a game where the score was tied 12 times and the lead changed hands 14 times.
Kahlig finished with 30 points for the Oilers, who shot 38.3 percent (23 of 60) from the field.
“Greg had a really good game. He carried us,” Ernst said. “He helped get us the big lead. But our mindset as a team has to change down the stretch when we have the lead. We keep playing the same way, and we can’t do that. It’s something we need to work on.”
The Lakers were able to capitalize on turnovers and a sizzling shooting performance. They shot 53.5 percent (23 of 43) overall and hit 76.5 percent of their shots in the second half as they won their sixth game by seven points or less.
Rob Woodson and Ryan Sabin paced the Lakers with 16 points apiece.
“We played well defensively most of the game,” Kahlig said. “We battled and played hard. But they got open when they needed to and made some big plays. Give them credit. They played well and we didn’t make plays when we needed to.”
This game was physical and rugged from the start between two respected GLIAC rivals.
Players from both teams drove into the lane often and were knocked to the floor without a foul being called. Baskets were difficult to come by but the Oilers took a 17-14 lead with 10:45 to go in the first half on a 3-pointer by Sean Samsel. The trey was the first field goal for UF in nearly five minutes.
GVSU led 24-19 on a 3-pointer by Woodson with 7:52 left, but made only one other field goal the rest of the half as Kapustka hit a trey for a 30-28 lead with 3.4 seconds left.
The Oilers were just 9 of 33 in the opening half but managed to lead by one at the break.
“We expected a slugfest,” Ernst said. “Both teams were sour from losses on Thursday. Both teams played hard and we matched their physicality. We did a lot of good things. We just didn’t execute at the end.”
The Oilers maintained the lead most of the second half and got steady efforts from Jake Heagen (12 points, 7 rebounds) and Dylan Kaufman (12 points).
UF will look to get back on track Thursday when it hosts Saginaw Valley State (5-5, 1-5) in an 8 p.m. game at Croy Gymnasium.
“We will have a good week of practice and be ready to bounce back,” Kahlig said. “We’ll be tested again, but we will be ready to play.”
findlay (7-3, 3-3 gliac)
Heagen 5-12 2-2 12, Kahlig 9-18 9-12 30, Frilling 2-5 0-0 4, Baity 1-6 7-10 9, Kaufman 4-7 0-0 12, Gardner 0-2 0-0 0, Samsel 1-2 0-0 3, Smith 0-3 4-4 4, Staley 0-2 0-0 0, Stern-Tucker 1-3 0-0 2. TOTALS: 23-60 22-28–76.
grand valley state (9-1, 5-1 gliac)
Rollins 3-4 2-5 8, Carbajal 3-4 7-8 13, Woodson 5-8 5-6 16, Sabin 5-10 2-2 16, Ryskamp 1-4 3-4 6, Washington 0-1 2-2 2, Kapustka 4-8 3-5 14, Alexander 0-0 1-2 1, Ansons 2-3 1-1 5, Barkley 0-1 0-0 0. TOTALS: 23-43 26-35–81.
HALFTIME: Findlay, 31-30
3-Point GOALS: Findlay 8-23 (Kaufman 4-6, Kahlig 3-8, Samsel 1-2, Baity, Smith & Stern-Tucker 0-1, Heagen 0-4); Grand Valley State 9-16 (Sabin 4-6, Kapustka 3-6, Woodson 1-1, Ryskamp 1-2, Ansons 0-1).
rebounds: Findlay 27 (Heagen 7); Grand Valley State 35 (Rollins 9).
ASSISTS: Findlay 11 (Kaufman 3); Grand Valley State 18 (Woodson 7).
STEALS: Findlay 10, Grand Valley State 8.
BLOCKS: Findlay 0, Grand Valley State 6.
TURNOVERS: Findlay 14, Grand Valley State 22.
TOTAL FOULS: Findlay 23, Grand Valley State 23.
FOULED OUT: Findlay, Frilling.
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