By ANDY WOLF
The season has flown by in the eyes of Ethan Linder.
That’s a good thing — as the wins are coming far more than the losses recently for the University of Findlay men’s basketball team.
“It makes it more enjoyable and more fun as well when you’re winning as a team,” said Linder, a sophomore guard. “Things are really jelling towards the end of the season and it makes everything come together.”
The Oilers have won 14 of 16 games since Dec. 1 to stand at 16-6 overall, 11-2 in the Great Midwest Athletic Conference.
Linder feels the team has done a good job establishing itself again as a conference contender.
As the GMAC standings can change on a daily basis, the Oilers, the two-time defending regular season league champs, are taking it one game at a time.
“We’ve done a pretty good job putting ourselves in a good position to win the conference — not necessarily win, but have a good shot of hosting it,” Linder said. “Those are big factors in tournament runs.”
Findlay is back in action against Ohio Dominican (11-12, 7-6) at 7:30 p.m. today at Niekamp Arena.
REWIND: Findlay is fresh off a pair of road victories over Kentucky Wesleyan (59-56) and Trevecca Nazarene (84-77 OT) last week.
The Oilers swept both teams by a total of 49 points at home in round one — yet trailed in both games in the final minutes in round two before finding ways to prevail.
“Towards the end of the season, it’s nice to know we can come together as a team,” Linder said. “Coach (Charlie) Ernst said after the game ‘I don’t know if we would’ve made those plays earlier in the season.'”
ABOUT ODU: Kelly Winter took over as new men’s basketball coach after Dan Evans left to take the same job at the University of North Georgia. Evans won 76 games in six seasons with the Panthers — including the 2018 GMAC tournament title.
Winter has kept his team battle-tested with a rigorous nonleague slate.
The Panthers have losses to Ashland, Pittsburgh-Johnstown, Indianapolis, Grand Valley State, Missouri-St. Louis and West Liberty — all a combined 107-31.
“You can’t judge a book by its cover,” Ernst said. “You can’t judge Ohio Dominican because they’re a middle-of-the-pack team because certainly they’re a well-above average team.”
It’s especially true as the Panthers have two of the most experienced and productive players in the league.
Seniors Sam Hickey (6-foot-3 guard) and Hasan Varence (6-6 forward) have each scored more than 1,500 points in their careers.
Hickey has done it largely via the 3-ball. He’s three makes shy of 300 career at a 40 percent clip.
Meanwhile, Varence is just shy of averaging a 15-10 double-double for his career. This season, Hickey averages 15.7 ppg and is 59 of 161 (36.6 percent) from downtown. Varence puts in 18.9 points, 9.4 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 1.0 block per game.
FREE-POINTERS: Ohio Dominican is one of eight Division II teams shooting 80 percent or better at the foul line this season (236 of 295, 8th).
On the flip side, Findlay ranks 267th (66.5) of 303 teams.
Since the turn of the calendar, the Oilers haven’t cracked 63 percent in seven of eight games and have failed to even best 60 percent in five of eight.
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t concerned about it,” Ernst said. “We have better shooters than that.
“I don’t feel as though we’ve got a mental block, I think. We just have too many guys, 4 of 6, 3 of 5. When you multiply them by a couple guys — before you know it, that’s 65 percent.”
The bigger concern to Ernst is making free throws to close out games and creating a simple scenario of “fouling anybody” for opposition. Of players with an attempt per game, Nathan Bruns (11.7 ppg) leads at 80 percent (36 of 45). Tre’Maine Gray is at 76.7 percent (23 of 30), Anthony Masterlasco 74 (37 of 50) and Linder 73.5 (36 of 49).