By BRIAN LESTER
SPRINGFIELD, MO. — No loss cut deeper than the one the University of Findlay men’s basketball team suffered on Saturday night in the NCAA Division II Midwest Regional.
On the brink of a victory, a four-point lead in the Oilers’ grasp with 7.4 seconds left in regulation, UF had its postseason dreams crushed in an 88-83 loss to Lake Superior State in a quarterfinal round showdown at the O’Reilly Center in Springfield.
“It’s a tough one to swallow. Obviously, it’s not the result we wanted,” junior forward Jake Heagen said. “We played really hard, but sometimes things don’t go your way. That is life. It’s gone our way a lot this season, but it didn’t tonight.”
Heagen seemed to give the Oilers (24-6) the cushion they needed in the closing seconds, hitting two free throws that put UF in front 72-68.
Tony Harris answered with a layup, slicing the lead to two, and after Alphonso Baity split two free throws, giving the Oilers a 73-70 lead, Harris came through with a desperation 3-pointer that swished through as time expired.
Harris scored 25 points, but no shot was bigger than the trey he hit to tie the game at 73-73.
“Coach called the play for either me or Derek (Billing), and luckily I got the ball in my hands,” Harris said. “I got into my rhythm to shoot the ball and it went in.”
UF head coach Charlie Ernst said he regrets not fouling Harris before he got a shot up.
“We should have fouled, obviously, and not given them a chance to tie it,” Ernst said. “As the head coach, I take responsibility for that. It’s a hard one for me to swallow because our players played hard enough and played well enough to win this game. They deserve better.”
The overtime session was tight. Two free throws by Greg Kahlig tied the score at 75-75 and a layup by Mark Frilling tied the score again at 77-77.
But when Harris hit a jumper with 2:29 to play for a 79-77 advantage, the No. 25 Lakers (27-5) never looked back in this battle between Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference opponents.
Kahlig split a pair of free throws to cut the lead to one at 79-78, but five straight points by Lake Superior State, including a jumper by Harris, put the Lakers in front 84-78.
Kahlig’s 3-pointer pulled the Oilers within three at 84-81 with 47 seconds left, but the Lakers held on for the win.
Kahlig, the GLIAC Player of the Year and a first-team All-Midwest Region selection, had a difficult night getting open for good shots. He did score 22 points, but was just 5 of 16 from the field. He ends his career as the fourth-leading scorer in program history with 1,877 points.
“They did a good job defensively on me. Give them credit for that,” Kahlig said. “They played well on both ends of the floor and we had some opportunities we didn’t capitalize on. It’s a tough loss to swallow.”
One of the most telling stats of the night was free-throw shooting. UF was 21 of 31 from the line and split four free throws in the final 3:48 of regulation. The Oilers missed three free throws in overtime, including two by Frilling with 10 seconds left and the Lakers leading 86-83.
“We talk about it all of the time to our players. It’s the little things that make the difference between winning and losing,” Ernst said. “Maybe if we make one more free throw, we don’t lose. But we have to live with it.”
UF shook off a sluggish stretch in the first half where it went four minutes without a field goal. The Oilers rann off a 9-0 stretch that ended with Heagen drilling a trey to put the Oilers up 22-14.
A reverse layup and 3-pointer by Dylan Kaufman put the Oilers in front 33-24 with just less than four minutes to play in the first half. Lake Superior State made a late run in the first half and got within 35-34 at halftime after a layup and free throw by Devin Daly.
UF surged ahead 40-34 early in the second half after a 3-pointer by Alphonso Baity and a jumper by Kahlig.
Lake Superior State eventually took the lead at 55-54 on a 3-pointer by Harris, and it was back-and-forth the rest of the way in regulation.
Frilling broke a 66-66 tie as he grabbed a rebound and put back a reverse layup before Heagen hit a free throw to give the Oilers a 69-66 advantage.
But as had been the case all night, the Lakers responded one more time.
“You have to give them credit. They made a lot of tough shots,” Ernst said. “The one at the end (Harris’ 3-pointer) is the one people remember, but really, they made a lot of tough shots when we had them on the ropes.”
The Oilers shot 44.1 percent (26 of 59) from the field and got 24 points from Heagen. Kaufman scored 12.
Lake Superior State shot 45.1 percent (32 of 71) from the field. Billing, Cameron Metz and Alex Williams all scored 16 points apiece for the Lakers, who snapped a two-game losing streak.
Kahlig said he was thankful for the teammates he was able to play with this season.
“I thought we had a good season, and I couldn’t have asked for a greater group of guys to play with my last year,” Kahlig said. “I wish the team the best of luck next year.”
Heagen said he will miss the seniors — Kahlig, Frilling and Sean Samsel — and his voice trailed off as he talked about the end of the road for the 2013-14 season.
“I love my teammates, especially the seniors. We are like a family in every sense of the word,” Heagen said. “I’m going to miss these seniors, but we have to move forward. It’s just tough.”
LAKE SUPERIOR STATE (27-5)
Harris 10-19 2-2 25, Billing 3-14 9-12 16, Blake 1-4 1-2 3, Metz 8-10 0-1 16, Williams 5-11 2-3 16, Dasuqi 3-7 0-0 8, Daly 2-5 0-0 4, Holt 0-1 0-0 0, Sekal 0-0 0-0 0, Smutny 0-0 0-0 0. TOTALS: 32-71 14-20–88.
Heagen 6-10 9-12 24, Kahlig 5-16 10-12 22, Frilling 3-5 0-2 6, Baity 3-5 1-2 9, Kaufman 4-9 1-2 12, Gardner 1-1 0-1 2, Samsel 1-4 0-0 2, Staley 0-0 0-0 0, Stern-Tucker 1-4 0-0 2, Jones 2-5 0-0 4, Kohls 0-0 0-0 0. TOTALS: 26-59 21-31–83.
HALFTIME: Findlay, 35-34.
REGULATION: Tied, 73-73.
3-Point GOALS: Lake Superior State 10-26 (Harris 3-4, Billing 1-8, Blake 0-1, Metz 0-1, Williams 4-6, Dasuqi 2-5, Daly 0-1); Findlay 10-26 (Heagen 3-4, Kahlig 2-9, Baity 2-3, Kaufman 3-7, Samsel 0-3).
rebounds: Lake Superior State 41 (Metz 8, Williams & Blake 6); Findlay 38 (Heagen & Kaufman 6).
ASSISTS: Findlay 14 (Heagen 3); Lake Superior State 14 (Harris & Blake 3).
STEALS: Lake Superior State 4 (Blake 2); Findlay 3.
BLOCKS: Findlay 6 (Heagen 2); Lake Superior State 1.
TURNOVERS: Findlay 12, Lake Superior State 9.
TOTAL FOULS: Lake Superior State 26, Findlay 20.
FOULED OUT: Lake Superior State, Blake, Williams, Daly.
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