By BRIAN LESTER
Greg Kahlig cut to the basket just as he had done several times before against Cedarville University and came through with a big shot Saturday afternoon.
He took the ball on a pass from Aaron Robinson and drew a foul as he scored on a layup.
The ensuing free throw was good and the University of Findlay men’s basketball team held a four-point lead with under five minutes to play in a tightly-contested defensive battle.
Moments later, the junior forward rifled a pass inside to Brad Piehl, who caught the ball as he ran the baseline and connected on a reverse layup.
The heady plays by Kahlig, combined with an all-around solid team defensive effort, propelled the No. 8 Oilers to a 74-65 nonconference win over the Yellow Jackets at Croy Gymnasium.
Kahlig scored 23 points, including eight from the free-throw line, and led UF (1-1) to a bounce-back win three days after it was toppled 90-74 in its season opener by top-ranked West Liberty State.
“I just wanted to be aggressive and make plays and do what I could to get my teammates involved,” Kahlig said.
“Anyone on this team can go off on any given night and I was thankful that my teammates hit me in some spots and I was able to knock down shots.”
Kahlig is a preseason all-Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference selection for a reason. Not only did he go 7 of 10 from the floor but he also grabbed six rebounds.
“He got in foul trouble against West Liberty, so we couldn’t isolate him the way we wanted to,” second-year UF head coach Charlie Ernst said. “Tonight, we did that and we got him the ball where he is tough. He is tough on the block and tough coming off of screens. He is playing with a lot of confidence and obviously he was big tonight.”
The Oilers played with a lot of confidence on defense down the stretch, holding off a CU team that gave WLSU all it could handle in a 105-92 setback before beating Saginaw Valley State (65-55) on Thursday night.
UF trailed 57-56 after Austin Foote (18 points) worked himself open for a 3-pointer and drew a foul on the shot. It was his second consecutive trey and his free throw pushed the Yellow Jackets (1-3) in front by one with 8:46 to go.
Shots wouldn’t come as easily for CU the rest of the way. Its 3-point opportunities were limited as UF defended hard along the perimeter and when the Yellow Jackets tried to score inside, they were just as unlucky.
Reserve forward Mark Frilling had a lot to do with that. He scored only five points but pulled down five boards and tallied two blocks. The junior altered several other shots as CU made only two field goals in the final eight minutes.
“Coach always talks about the second unit bringing energy. I was just doing what I could to help the team,” Frilling said. “We did a good job of taking them out of their rhythm on offense.”
Ernst took notice.
“With Mark, there are no wasted defensive possessions,” Ernst said. “He competes and when a tough play needs to be made down the stretch, he is the guy you want making it.”
Senior preseason all-GLIAC guard Aaron Robinson didn’t have a big offensive game either, scoring just 8 points, but he grabbed four rebounds, dished out three assists and tallied two steals.
It was his play on defense that made the biggest impact. In one instance with UF up 68-62, Robinson hounded Foote near the CU bench and forced him to lose the ball out of bounds.
“The unsung hero was Aaron. He did a good job of disrupting them on offense in those last 10 minutes,” Ernst said. “This game was won on defense.”
The Oilers shot 39.1 percent (18 of 46) from the floor but survived by going 35 of 40 from the free-throw line. They missed on just one of 26 attempts in the second half. Piehl was 8 of 9 from the line and scored 18 points to go along with six rebounds.
“When you struggle to shoot, that is what you have to do,” Ernst said. “People assume we are a jump-shooting team, but we like getting to the line and we shot extremely well there today. We also rebounded well against a team that has good size. I’m proud of our effort.”
The Oilers owned a 40-29 edge on the boards and limited the Yellow Jackets to a 37.9 percent (22-of-58) shooting performance. Zimmy Nwogbo, who came in averaging 23.7 points and 10.7 rebounds per outing, was held to 12 points and three boards.
“We did a good job of getting stops by playing aggressive,” Kahlig said. “We tipped some balls, got rebounds and limited their shot opportunities.”
UF had not started a season 0-2 since 1983. But winning wasn’t easy against a team that won 23 games a year ago and could very well be in line for another 20-win campaign.
The Oilers had control early, extending their advantage to 16-8 with 12:07 to go after a jumper by Kahlig.
CU did a good job of working the ball around the perimeter and picked up steam when it scored 12 consecutive points to take a 20-16 lead. Marcus Reineke fueled the run with a pair of 3-pointers.
UF took a 31-30 lead into halftime after Robinson made a pair of free throws and the second half proved to be a test of wills.
“It was big for us to respond after what happened against West Liberty,” Kahlig said.
The Oilers now have six days off before they host Notre Dame College at 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 26.
“The break comes at a good time,” Ernst said. “We put a lot of energy into getting ready for West Liberty, preparing for a style that we might not see again the rest of the season. Now, we can get back to doing what we need to do to get better as a team.”
Nwogbo 3-6 6-10 12, Redic 1-2 0-0 2, Grant 2-3 0-0 4, Foote 5-14 5-5 18, Brown 3-11 1-1 8, Smith 0-0 0-0 0, Hickman 0-1 0-0 0, Reineke 4-7 2-2 12, Cuffee 1-7 0-0 3, Maxwell 3-7 0-0 6. TOTALS: 22-58 14-18–65.
Heagen 1-6 7-8 9, Kahlig 7-10 8-10 23, Piehl 5-9 8-9 18, Samsel 2-4 3-3 9, Robinson 2-4 4-4 8, Brown 0-0 0-0 0, Baity 0-0 0-0 0, Smith 0-7 2-2 2, Kaufman 0-3 0-0 0, Frilling 1-3 3-4 5. TOTALS: 18-46 35-40–74.
HALFTIME: Findlay, 31-30.
3-Point GOALS: Cedarville 7-24 (Foote 3-8, Reineke 2-5, Brown 1-4, Cuffee 1-4, Hickman 0-1, Nwogbo 0-2); Findlay 3-14 (Samsel 2-4, Kahlig 1-4, Piehl 0-1, Robinson 0-1, Smith 0-1, Kaufman 0-1, Heagen 0-2).
rebounds: Cedarville 29 (Brown 7, Maxwell 6); Findlay 40 (Kahlig & Piehl 6). ASSISTS: Cedarville 15 (Nwogo 5); Findlay 11 (Robinson 4). STEALS: Cedarville 4 (Hickman 21); Findlay 3 (Robinson 2). BLOCKS: Cedarville 4; Findlay 5 (Frilling 2).
TURNOVERS: Cedarville 12, Findlay 12. TOTAL FOULS: Cedarville 25, Findlay 15. FOULED OUT: None.