By BRIAN LESTER
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — It ended in heartbreak.
The University of Findlay’s dream of making a run in the NCAA Division II tournament came to an end Saturday night in an 88-83 overtime loss to Lake Superior State in the quarterfinals of the Midwest Regional at the O’Reilly Center in Springfield.
“This loss hurts as bad as a loss can hurt,” UF head coach Charlie Ernst said. “It’s a hard one for me to swallow because our players played hard enough and well enough to win this game. Our players deserved better.”
UF led 35-34 at halftime and was up four points with seven seconds left. The Lakers rallied to force overtime on a desperation 3-point shot by Tony Harris as time expired, tying the game at 73-73.
“We should have fouled and not given them a chance to tie it,” Ernst said. “I take responsibility for it as the head coach.”
The No. 21 Oilers (24-6) never led in overtime, but were within three at 84-81 with 47 seconds to play after Greg Kahlig knocked down a 3-pointer.
But when UF needed a big shot or big stop against the No. 25 Lakers (27-5), it couldn’t get it and fell in the opening round for the second straight year.
“It’s a hard loss to swallow,” Kahlig said. “They did a good job defensively and they made plays at the right time. We couldn’t capitalize on our opportunities.”
Junior forward Jake Heagen had similar thoughts on absorbing a painful postseason loss.
“It’s not the result we wanted,” Heagen said. “We played really hard, but sometimes things don’t go your way. It’s life. Unfortunately, things didn’t go our way tonight.”
The Oilers shot 44.1 percent (26-of-59) from the field and got 24 points from Heagen. Kahlig finished with 22 points and Dylan Kaufman scored 12.
LSSU shot 45.1 percent from the field and got 25 points from Harris. Derek Billing, Cameron Metz and Alex Williams scored 16 points apiece for the Lakers.
The Oilers led 72-68 with 7.4 seconds remaining in regulation after two free throws by Heagen, but the Lakers refused to fold.
The problem was that UF missed four free throws in the final 3:48 of regulation and was 21-of-31 from the line overall.
“We talk about the little things all of the time,” Ernst said. “It’s the difference between winning and losing. Maybe if we make one more free throw, we don’t lose. But we did and we’ll live with it.”
For Kahlig, who was the GLIAC Player of the Year and named a first-team All-Midwest Region selection, the tournament loss was not how he wanted his career to end. But the memories he made over his four-year career are ones he would never trade.
“Couldn’t ask for a greater group of guys to play with my last year,” Kahlig said. “It’s tough to lose, but I wish the guys coming back the best next year.”
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