By BRIAN LESTER
HILLSDALE, Mich. — As the University of Findlay men’s basketball team walked dejectedly back to its locker room Thursday night, a little more pain was added to an already difficult night.
It was tough enough falling 86-67 to rival Hillsdale College Thursday night at Jesse Philips Arena, but the salt on the wound was learning that Lake Superior State also lost, falling to Wayne State on the road.
Had the Oilers been able to take care of business here against the Chargers in their regular season finale, they would have earned the right to host the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference tournament.
All the No. 23 Oilers (21-5, 17-5 GLIAC) can do now is get ready for the GLIAC tourney opener Wednesday night at Croy Gymnasium.
As much it hurt, head coach Charlie Ernst isn’t going to let one tough night on the road erase the success UF has had as of late. The Oilers came in on an eight game-win streak and had won their last six road games.
“It doesn’t surprise me Lake Superior lost because I know as a coach how tough it is to win on the road in this conference,” Ernst said. “The beauty is, we aren’t going on the road Wednesday. We have earned a first-round home game and I won’t let one game dictate anything more than the fact that we lost tonight.”
One rugged stretch in the second half of what had been an intense and tight rivalry game turned the tide as the Oilers trailed just 39-38 at halftime.
Moments after Dylan Kaufman nailed a trey to tie the score at 45-45 with a little over 17 minutes to play, the Chargers (18-8, 14-8) answered with a furious run.
It started with two free throws by Cody Smith to break the tie and ended with a big 3-pointer by Brandon Pritzl that put the Chargers in front 61-47 with a little over 12 minutes remaining.
The Oilers couldn’t buy a shot, going more than five minutes without a field goal, and struggled to string together stops as it had no answer for an HC team that shot 51 percent (26-of-51) from the field and knocked down 12 of its 26 shots from beyond the arc.
Pritzl torched the Oilers for 27 points, but his dagger play was a dunk that fired up the crowd and prompted the HC players to bounce off the bench and jump around to celebrate the big play.
“We keep track of three stops in a row, and I don’t know if there was a stretch where we got three stops in a row,” Ernst said. “We need to be tuned in with all five guys defensively to guard this team. We had too many problems on defense. I take responsibility for that because I coach the defense. We need to be better the next time.”
Tim Dezelski scored 23 points for the Chargers and Kyle Cooper added 11 points. Anthony Manno also scored 11.
UF tried to mount a late comeback as it has in past road games this month and it closed the gap to 66-54 when Dylan Kaufman scooped up a loose ball and took off the other way for a dunk with 8:54 remaining.
But the Oilers were unable to avoid giving up second-chances to the Chargers several times late in the game as HC pulled away for the win.
“We did a good job in our zone, and we got some opportunities in it, but the problem with the zone is it’s not ideal for rebounding,” Ernst said. “They hurt us on the glass. And getting rebounds is an easy way to score.”
The Oilers shot 41.3 percent (26-of-63) from the field and Kaufman finished with 17 points. Greg Kahlig, who had scored 39 or more in his last three games, including 40 or more twice, struggled most of the night.
He did hit three quick treys early, including one in the corner as he was knocked to the floor near the HC bench, as he staked the Oilers to a 9-5 lead.
UF led 20-17 after a 3-pointer up top by Jake Heagen but the Chargers were able to do just enough to get a slim lead at halftime.
Kahlig scored 15 points and Alphonso Baity finished with 12 points.
“They did a good job on Greg, and I give them credit for that,” Ernst said. “When you have someone shoot the ball as well as he has lately, sometimes other guys just watch him and rely on him. We didn’t have anyone else ready to step up. But give Hillsdale credit for its effort.”
The Oilers are unsure who they will play at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the GLIAC tourney opener, but it could be Hillsdale. UF, which will be seeded second, won the first meeting this season by a 74-71 score.
The winner of the opener will advance to the final four of the GLIAC tourney. That will be played Saturday and Sunday at the highest remaining seed. At the moment, that is LSSU. UF is the two-time defending GLIAC tourney champion and won both of those titles on the road. The Oilers entered the night ranked fourth in the NCAA Division II Midwest Regional rankings. The top eight make the NCAA tourney.
“The thing about college basketball is you have to remember what the sting feels like and move on,” Ernst said. “We still have a lot to play for this season.”
FINDLAY (21-5, 17-5 GLIAC)
heagen 3-13 0-0 8, Kahlig 5-17 2-2 15, Frilling 0-1 1-2 1, Baity 5-9 2-2 12, Kaufman 7-9 1-1 17, Gardner 0-4 0-0 0, Samsel 0-2 0-0 0, Smith 0-0 0-0 0, Staley 2-3 0-0 4, Stern-Tucker 1-1 0-2 2, Jones 3-3 2-4 8, Kohls 0-1 0-0 0. TOTALS: 26-63 8-13–67.
HILLSDALE (18-88, 14-8 GLIAC)
Nelson 1-3 1-1 3, Cooper 4-7 4-4 13, Dezelski 8-15 4-6 23, Smith 0-2 0-0 0, Pritzl 7-10 7-8 27, Schell 0-0 0-0 0, Miller 1-5 5-6 7, Manno 4-8 0-0 11, Smith 0-0 0-0 0, Grose 0-0 0-0 0, Furlong 0-0 0-0 0, Jones 0-0 0-0 0, Pretzer 1-1 0-0 2. TOTALS: 26-51 22-25–86.
HALFTIME: Hillsdale, 39-38.
3-Point GOALS: Hillsdale 12-26 (Nelson 0-1, Cooper 1-2, Dezelski 3-5, Smith 0-1, Pritzl 5-7, Miller 0-3, Manno 3-7); Findlay 7-27 (Heagen 2-7, Kahlig 3-9, Baity 0-3, Kaufman 2-3, Gardner 0-3, Samsel 0-2).
rebounds: Hillsdale 35 (Cooper 14, Dezelski 9); Findlay 29 (Baity 6).
ASSISTS: Hillsdale 18 (Dezelski 5, Miller 4); Findlay 8.
STEALS: Findlay 6, Hillsdale 6.
BLOCKS: Hillsdale 3, Findlay 1.
TURNOVERS: Hillsdale 11, Findlay 9.
TOTAL FOULS: Findlay 19, Hillsdale 13.
FOULED OUT: None.
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