By ANDY WOLF
HILLSDALE, Mich. — University of Findlay men’s basketball coach Charlie Ernst could’ve given his team an extra day off in the weeklong preparation for Hillsdale College.
The temptation was there, but sole possession of first place in the Great Midwest Athletic Conference was on the line.
Instead, he opted not to, noticing determination in his players.
The same hunger showed up on Saturday as the No. 9-ranked Oilers led for all but a few seconds of the second half and came away with a 75-70 victory over the Chargers at the Dawn Tibbetts Potter Arena in Hillsdale, Michigan.
“We did something every day (of practice) and I wanted to make sure we were well prepared,” Ernst said after taking their normal Sunday off. “We had a good week of practice and I felt, because of that, we had great confidence as a team.
“I could see it in our guys’ eyes going into this game. We knew it was going to be tough. We knew they were going to make some runs, but I think our guys showed great resolve and great togetherness to get this win.”
Findlay (19-3, 13-2 GMAC) snapped Hillsdale’s eight-game winning streak and avenged a 93-82 home loss two weeks prior.
Davis Larson racked up a game-high 26 points for the Chargers (16-6, 12-3 GMAC) with three 3-pointers on a 10-of-15 shooting performance.
The Oilers routinely got to the foul line and earned season highs in makes (31) and attempts (42).
All eight UF players that played made at least two free throws.
Hillsdale made only 7 of 11 at the charity stripe.
“The description of Hillsdale by everyone in the league, and deservedly so, is how physical they are,” Ernst said. “This is a big, physical, rugged team.
“… Oftentimes when we go on the road, we’re referred to as the finesse team. We’ve kind of used that to motivate our guys over the last couple weeks.”
UF senior Trey Smith made 6-of-6 at the line en route to 10 points.
Anthony Masterlasco (Liberty-Benton) backed the Oilers with 15 points.
Six-foot-seven senior Alex White put together a strong all-around game of nine points, 11 rebounds, three assists, three steals and two blocks.
UF’s Aaron Overhiser and Tommy Schmock each had 14 points.
Schmock, who added seven rebounds, came off the bench for the first time this season. Freshman Ethan Linder (four points) started at point guard in his place.
Ernst said the decision had nothing to do with the game and was only “disciplinary.”
Schmock went 4 of 4 at the line in the last 1:06 and Linder also made a pair to close it out.
The start was far from ideal.
The Oilers fell into a 19-6 hole, despite scoring the first two buckets of the game.
Yet, they came all the way back to take a 37-33 halftime lead.
One 3-pointer by Overhiser completed the comeback at 30-30, before another 3-pointer gave UF the lead at 33-30 two possessions later.
It took the entire 20 minutes of the second half to finish off the Chargers.
Findlay never led by more than nine points and Hillsdale kept chipping away.
Nate Neveau and Davis Larson each netted a pair of free throws to push the Chargers ahead at 61-60 and 3:56 to go.
The lead was short-lived.
Back at the other end, Smith drove down the lane and finished through traffic off the glass.
On UF’s ensuing possession, Smith got fouled on a 3-point attempt and made all three shots.
It was the second time in the game the senior guard converted the trifecta of free throws on a 3-point attempt.
“First off, Trey is a gutsy, gutsy player,” Ernst said. “(Hillsdale’s) students were riding Trey before we even took the floor for warmups.
“They spent the entire warmups in his ear and chanting at him. They were well-prepared for Trey, let’s just say that.
“He didn’t let that misdirect get him out of his game.”
The Oilers continued to play sound defense in a two-possession game the rest of the way.
Hillsdale’s Harrison Niego hit a 3-pointer with 25 seconds left to account for their first field goal since the 5-minute mark.
In that span, the Chargers missed their only three field goal attempts and had to earn offense by going 6 of 8 at the line.
“That was a reflection of the effort we gave all day,” Ernst said. “The difference was that Hillsdale played in rhythm and had so much confidence when we played them in Findlay.
“In this game, we kept them on their heels a little bit. We mixed some full-court pressure in with some really sturdy and steady half-court, man-to-man, but then we mixed in a pretty active zone for 15 percent of the time.”
Hillsdale was, otherwise, efficient on the afternoon, making 49.1 percent (27 of 55).
But the Oilers constantly held them to one shot and only surrendered three offensive boards — one in the last seconds of garbage time. Overall, UF held a 38-22 edge in rebounding.
Austen Yarian chipped in 15 points and a team-high nine rebounds for the Chargers.
No. 9 FINDLAY (19-3, 13-2 GMAC)
Linder 1-4 2-2 4, Overhiser 3-7 5-6 14, White 3-7 3-6 9, Masterlasco 6-9 3-4 15, Smith 2-6 6-6 10, Schmock 4-10 5-8 14, George 1-2 3-4 5, Stover 0-0 4-6 4. TOTALS: 20-45 31-42 75.
HILLSDALE (16-6, 12-3 GMAC)
Larson 10-15 3-5 26, Behr 2-4 0-2 5, Czarnowski 0-3 0-0 0, Niego 3-8 0-0 8, Lowry 1-3 0-0 2, Neveau 0-1 2-2 2, Hill 4-7 2-2 12, Wilkinson 0-1 0-0 0, Cordes 0-0 0-0 0, Yarian 7-12 0-0 15, Richardson 0-1 0-0 0. TOTALS: 27-55 7-11 70.
3-Point GOALS: Findlay 4-12 (Overhiser 4-12, Masterlasco 0-1, Smith 0-3, Schmock 1-3, George 0-1); Hillsdale 9-21 (Larson 3-5, Behr 1-2, Niego 2-5, Lowry 0-2, Hill 2-3, Wilkinson 0-1, Yarian 1-3).
rebounds: Findlay 38 (White 11); Hillsdale 22 (Yarian 9).
ASSISTS: Findlay 9 (White & Smith 3); Hillsdale 13 (Hill 4).
STEALS: Findlay 4 (White 3); Hillsdale 6 (Hill 3).
BLOCKS: Findlay 2 (White 2); Hillsdale 4.
TURNOVERS: Findlay 9; Hillsdale 7.
TOTAL FOULS: Findlay 16; Hillsdale 25.
FOULED OUT: None.
HALFTIME: Findlay, 37-33.