By ANDY WOLF
Deven Stover feels he may be breaking out of his shell.
A thunderous dunk may have contributed to much of that feeling.
Last Saturday, the 6-foot-5, 210-pound University of Findlay freshman forward flew down the basketball court in transition and caught a pass at the volleyball line before dribbling downhill into his flight.
He didn’t hesitate and confidently threw down a one-handed jam around the defense of Tiffin’s Austin Adams.
“It felt great, honestly,” Stover said.
The No. 9-ranked Oilers picked up a pair of meaningful home wins last week over Cedarville (81-68), avenging their first loss of the season, and against rival Tiffin (110-85).
Next in Findlay’s way is Hillsdale College in a 3 p.m. road contest Saturday at Dawn Tibbetts Potter Arena in Hillsdale, Michigan
The Chargers convincingly took the first meeting 93-82 not too long ago in Findlay (Jan. 19).
Findlay is 18-3 overall while Hillsdale is unranked at 16-5.
The two teams are locked in a first-place tie in the Great Midwest Athletic Conference standings at 12-2.
“And we actually came off a really good first half (against Tiffin) so all-around (the dunk) felt great because, one, as a team we were clicking,” Stover said.
“The sky is the limit for us. As long as we continue to make the right leaps, right steps, I think we can go pretty far.”
Stover is in his own process of leaps and steps to scratch the surface of his own potential.
He’s the eighth man in UF’s eight-man rotation, seeing 12.5 minutes per game.
To understand Stover is to know his background.
He enjoyed a standout career for Cleveland St. Ignatius, which reached the Division I regional finals his senior year during which he was an all-Ohio selection.
His prep memories include the heated rivalry against Lakewood St. Edward’s — the alma matter of current UF starting sophomore point guard Tommy Schmock.
“Funny thing is, Tommy said he didn’t like me in high school,” Stover said, laughing. “He’s not supposed to. I had a fun time playing against him, St. Ed’s, — it was always a great atmosphere.”
After getting multiple Division I looks, Stover opted for the Naval Prep Academy for a few reasons.
His father recommended it as a former Army captain and many Division I coaches said Stover could use another year.
Stover completed his year and didn’t want to commit the necessary four years at the U.S. Naval Academy plus five more mandatory years as a commissioned officer.
But he did take away a better appreciation for the little things and a freedom of outfit choice.
UF coach Charlie Ernst notices Stover’s upbringing most in his “presence and dependability”.
“He’s not only on time but he’s in a good frame of mind,” Ernst said.
Stover transferred to Cleveland State where he sat out an entire year due to injury. Looking for a better fit, he visited UF and was offered a scholarship the same day.
Stover has since been a coachable asset not only for Ernst and his staff, but for his teammates as well.
“He listens and he nods his head ‘Yeah’ and he accepts it,” Ernst said. “A lot kids have a hard time with that.”
Stover averages 4.0 points and 2.6 rebounds so far.
He’s recently become far more under control, fluid and assertive as a player with better adaptation to the pace of the Division II game.
“It’s not that I would purposely do it, but I played faster,” Stover said. “But I feel like it’s slowed down. I’m taking my time and actually looking around.”
Stover and the Oilers will have to be as sharp and in control Saturday to knock off the Chargers.
Ernst is sure his players will have a chip on their shoulder.
“We’ve got a group of winners who don’t like the taste of losing and know they were outplayed the first time around,” Ernst said.
Both teams’ offensive output in round one is the highest point total allowed by either team.
“They probably feel like ‘if Findlay gets 82 again, it’s going to be hard to beat them again,'” Ernst said. “Here we are, we’re both gameplanning the same way to try to figure out how to defend one another better.”
Hillsdale’s Davis Larson went for a game-high 22 points the first time around, making all three 3-pointers and all seven free-throw attempts.
Larson, a 6-5 sophomore, averages 12.5 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.7 steals.
“If I didn’t know any better, I’d say he’s maybe their go-to player when they need a bucket,” Ernst said.
Dylan Lowry leads Hillsdale at 13.2 ppg while Harrison Niego adds 10.2 ppg and Austin Yarian goes for 9.4 ppg off the bench.
Findlay’s women’s basketball team (15-5, 11-4 GMAC) will also be in action at Hillsdale (10-11, 8-7) at 1 p.m. Saturday.
UF senior forward Anna Hintz still leads the league in scoring (18.8 ppg) and rebounding (8.9 rpg). She most recently jumped into fifth place on UF’s all-time scoring list at 1,344 career points.
Hintz is already is second on Findlay’s career rebounding list (793).
Elissa Ellerbrock (Ottawa-Glandorf) is up to 11.3 points per game while Allie Thobe (7.4 ppg) leads the GMAC with 44 steals.