By BRIAN LESTER
ASHLAND — Jake Heagen never lacks intensity or the ability to play with all-out effort.
He knew he was going to need both on Thursday night as the University of Findlay men’s basketball team faced a daunting task on the road against rival Ashland University.
Once he threw down a dunk off a lob from Alphonso Baity early in the first half to tie the score at 17-17, it was clear Heagen was ready to roll. So, too, were the Oilers, who fed off an 18-point effort by Heagen and an all-around solid defensive effort to knock off the Eagles 69-55 at Kates Gymnasium.
The Oilers had lost in their last two trips here, but with the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference title race as tight as it can be, they couldn’t afford a loss on this night.
Heagen helped make sure UF (18-4, 14-4 GLIAC) got out of town with a win.
The Oilers, winners of five consecutive games, remain a half game behind Walsh in the South Division and are in third overall in the league standings.
“We came into a hostile environment and I was just trying to give as much effort as I could,” Heagen said. “My teammates did a great job of finding me. I got a couple of dunks and that made things easier. It was great to come in here and get a win.”
Heagen didn’t have his best offensive night, missing on all five of his shots from beyond the arc and going just 5 of 13 from the field. But he made plays when he needed to and was aggressive on defense.
His biggest highlight of the night was a dunk right before halftime where he stole the ball and took off for the basket. He elevated in the lane and threw down a jam to put the Oilers in front 28-23 at halftime.
“I didn’t shoot the ball very well tonight, but I know there are other ways to impact a game. I was able to find ways to do that,” he said.
UF head coach Charlie Ernst isn’t surprised Heagen rose to the occasion.
“He’s such a warrior and he brings everyone’s intensity up,” Ernst said. “And that is what an upperclassmen should do, especially in a tough environment. Jake is gamer.”
So is senior preseason All-American forward Greg Kahlig.
Kahlig only attempted two treys on the night, and only one swished through the net. It came at just the right time.
Ashland (9-13, 6-12) had just made a run to slice the UF lead to 54-47 on two free throws by Paul Honigford with less than five minutes to play. The pressure was rising and the Eagles seemed poised to steal the momentum.
But Kahlig, dribbling up top with a defender draped all over him, stepped back and nailed a 3-pointer. It was part of a 17-point performance for Kahlig.
“That was a big shot. That was the big shot of the game,” Ernst said. “After that, we regained control and put the game away.”
UF never let its lead dip below 10 again as it pushed forward to its fourth consecutive win on the road.
Kahlig was fouled on his other 3-point attempt and drilled all three free throws for a 60-47 lead and Quaran Jones all but put the exclamation point on the victory with a two-hand dunk moments later.
Dylan Kaufman finished with 10 points. His 3-pointer with 6:24 to go in the first half gave the Oilers their first lead at 20-19. The Oilers, who trailed 8-0 early, shot 47.7 percent (21 of 44) from the field. Their willingness to work for good shots and not rush things was a key to their success.
“Sometimes we let a defense off the hook by throwing one pass and taking a shot,” Ernst said. “If you miss that shot, you have gained nothing. But I tell the guys, there is something to be gained by a long possession, even if you don’t score on it. It wears on a team, and we are getting much better at picking and choosing when to be aggressive with quick shots.”
The Eagles shot 43.2 percent (16 of 37) from the field and got 13 points out of Will Evans. Brook Turson added 12. But Ashland found it tough to get into a rhythm offensively as the game wore on and nineteen of their points came from the free-throw line.
“Ashland played hard. We knew they would,” Heagen said. “But playing great defense is what it takes to win on the road in this conference. We had to get it done defensively.”
The effort paid off and the Oilers now shift their attention to Lake Erie College. UF takes on the Storm (9-15, 6-12) at 3 p.m. Saturday in Painesville.
ASHLAND (9-13, 6-12 GLIAC)
Evans 3-5 6-6–13, Davis 2-3 1-4–5, Thomas 2-6, 0-1–4, Krizancic 3-8 0-0–8, Turson 2-7 7-7–12, Osborne 3-6 1-1–7, Honigford 0-0 2-2–2, Cook 1-2 2-2–4, Speelman 0-0 0-0–0, Hundley 0-0 0-0–0. TOTALS: 16-37 19-23–55.
FINDLAY (18-4, 14-4 GLIAC)
Heagen 5-13 8-9–18, Kahlig 4-7, 8-11–17, Frilling 3-4 0-0–6, Baity 3-4 2-2–8, Kaufman 4-7 0-0–10, Gardner 0-1 1-2–1, Samsel 0-2 2-3–2, Smith 0-2 0-0–0, Staley 1-2 0-0–2, Jones 1-2 3-4–5. TOTALS: 21-44 24-31–69.
3-Point GOALS: Ashland 4-15 (Evans 1-2, Thomas 0-2, Krizancic 2-6, Turson 1-4, Osborne 0-1); Findlay 3-16 (Heagen 0-5, Kahlig 1-2, Baity 0-1, Kaufman 2-4, Gardner 0-1, Samsel 0-2, Smith 0-1).
rebounds: Ashland 29 (Turson 6, Kirzancic 5); Findlay 23 (Frilling 5).
ASSISTS: Ashland 11 (Evans 4, Thomas 3); Findlay 10 (Baity 4, Kahlig 3).
STEALS: Ashland 5; Findlay 7.
BLOCKS: Ashland 1, Findlay 1.
TURNOVERS: Ashland 20, Findlay 10.
TOTAL FOULS: Ashland 27, Findlay 23.
FOULED OUT: Ashland (Evans, Osborne); Findlay (Frilling).
HALFTIME: Findlay, 28-23.
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