By ANDY WOLF
When Taren Sullivan returned to the court last Thursday, those who didn’t already know would have had a hard time noticing he was playing through pain.
A left ankle injury forced the University of Findlay senior to miss only two games.
Both Sullivan and UF men’s basketball coach Charlie Ernst are thankful it wasn’t more.
“He’s going to continue to get rehab,” Ernst said. “While he looked healthy, his ankle is not 100 percent and it may not return to 100 percent. Even Taren’s 90-95 is better than most people.”
The fate of Sullivan, and perhaps the Oilers, hung in balance when his ankle turned violently after a typical sky-high rebound.
He felt a pop and knew something was wrong right away.
The air quickly got sucked out of Croy Gymnasium.
A few days later, Sullivan expelled a huge sigh of relief as the doctors told him he could take off the boot and begin rehabbing.
“That made me very happy because I knew how dedicated I would be to getting back, just putting time in,” said Sullivan, who averages 17.9 points, 6.1 rebounds and 3.0 assists.
The Oilers (22-3, 16-1 GMAC) did drop a game in his absence but clinched the Great Midwest Athletic Conference two games later against Lake Erie with Sullivan activated.
The standout and do-it-all forward was mostly back to his normal self, efficiently scoring 16 points off the bench in the 107-86 win.
Ernst noticed he wasn’t quite skying as high over everyone for rebounds or playing with as much “wreckless abandon” in leading the transition.
But the game was still a mental barrier for Sullivan, one he shook off right away.
“The first few minutes, just trying to click that off in my head to tell myself that I’m feeling good and I’m going to be alright,” Sullivan said. “Once I got into a rhythm, it just went away.”
Ernst said Sullivan spent only one practice at full go before the game.
While practice was routine and calculated, the game feel presented a different challenge.
“In the game you just react,” Sullivan said. “Your body can’t be too sure on how you’re going to move.”
Sullivan came away happy after little soreness following Thursday’s game, which he expected
Ernst said Sullivan will start today, if healthy.
“Which it appears that he is,” Ernst said.
Findlay hosts Cedarvile (11-12, 6-10) today with tipoff at 6 p.m.
The Yellow Jackets recently saw their top-scorer go down as well.
Patrick Bain (21.7 ppg), the GMAC’s second leading scorer, suffered a season-ending knee injury four games ago.
Ernst saw Bain as not just Cedarville’s go-to shot-maker, but best perimeter defender as well.
“He’s not only a good player but he’s a hard worker, carries himself extremely well and you hate to see bad things happen to those kind of people,” Ernst said.
Cedarville’s offense is still clicking without Bain, just in a different fashion.
Colton Linkous (8.1 ppg) has stepped up lately with scoring games of 20, 22, 15 and 10 since Bain went down.
Normally a spot-up shooter, he’s shooting better than 50 percent (17 of 32) in that span.
“They’re playing more shooters together and they’re playing their two point guards more often,” Ernst said. “Those guys are able to get into the lane, draw help and get kickouts.”
Grant Zawadzki (12.8 ppg) and Conner TenHove (10.4) also average double figures for Cedarville.
Fresh off a season-high 29-point performance, UF’s Martyce Kimbrough (18.4 ppg) is up to fifth in the GMAC in scoring.
He’s also been climbing the all-time scoring list and needs only three points to move past Liberty-Benton grad Nathan Hyde (1,528, 2008-11) for 13th.
Sullivan is close behind in 16th (1,473).
Following the men’s game, the UF women’s team (17-6, 14-5) will face Cedarville (19-4, 14-3) at 8 p.m.
A loss to league-leading Ursuline (18-6, 15-3) put the Oilers two games out of first with three to go.
They’ll look to shake off their worst shooting performance of the season (19 of 71).
The first matchup between the teams took two overtimes, with UF prevailing 92-83.
Anna Hintz racked up 31 points for UF while Cedarville’s Baylee Bennett drained eight 3-pointers en route to 32 points.
Bennett has since had another game with eight 3-pointers and two games ago made a school-record 11 triples.
She holds a slim 83-79 edge over UF’s Lynsey Englebrecht for the league lead in 3-pointers.
Englebrecht’s total is now the UF single-season record.
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By ANDY WOLF