By BRIAN LESTER
So when the No. 13 University of Findlay men’s basketball team battles Michigan Tech in a key early-season Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference game at 5:30 p.m. today, it will be counting on a strong defensive effort to set the stage for a win.
The Oilers (4-1, 2-0 GLIAC) have made significant strides on the defensive end of the floor during a four-game win streak and are holding opponents to 69.6 points per outing. They have yet to allow a team to shoot 50 percent or better from the floor.
“You always have to play good defense on the road. It will help correct any mistakes you make on offense,” senior guard Aaron Robinson said. “We know we have to be dialed in defensively, be focused and just play with intensity.”
The Oilers lost 70-56 to the Huskies (3-2, 1-1) a year ago in the Upper Peninsula.
“We owe them from last year,” senior forward Jack Smith said. “It will be a big game for both teams. We have to make sure we are mentally and physically prepared for a tough game.”
MTU is traditionally one of the better teams in the conference. The Huskies won the North Division last season and are a favorite to repeat. Like the Oilers, they reached the final four of the GLIAC tournament, which UF went on to win for the sixth time in program history last March.
The Huskies are coming off of an 84-75 overtime road loss to Walsh and will be playing at home for only the second time tonight.
They average 73 points per game and allow 67.6. Senior forward Ali Haidar, the preseason player of the year in the conference, is clicking for 26.2 points and 11.0 rebounds per game.
“Not only do we have the long trip to play against a very good opponent that took it to us last year, but we will be facing one of the premier post players in the conference,” UF head coach Charlie Ernst said. “He didn’t kill us last year, but they had a lot of other guys that stepped up against us.”
MTU isn’t a one-man show.
Junior guard Austin Armga is averaging 11.6 points while sophomore guard Ben Stelzer has drilled 12 treys and is averaging 10.8 points. Sophomore forward Phil Romback (8.6 ppg, 6.0 rpg) and junior guard Alex Culy (7.0 ppg) have been key contributors for veteran head coach Kevin Luke.
“We can’t just pay attention to (Haidar) because they have three or four other guys who can hurt you,” Ernst said. “They have a good team and I have a lot of respect for coach Luke and his program. It will be a challenge, but our guys are excited about going on the road and seeing how far they have come.”
The Oilers are averaging 80.6 points per outing and have shot 50 percent from the floor in back-to-back games. Junior forward Greg Kahlig (19.4 ppg) has been lighting it up and scored 27 in an 82-74 win over Northwood on Saturday.
Senior forward Brad Piehl (11.6) and Robinson (10.6) have also been consistently double-figure scorers.
Smith (8.6 ppg), is one of six Oilers’ players scoring at least four points per contest. UF hopes it can capitalize on its depth.
“If you play hard on defense, it can create energy for you on the road, and that leads to success on the other end of the floor,” Smith said.
The Oilers will wrap up the trip with a 1 p.m. game against Northern Michigan on Saturday. This week will be the only time UF goes on the road until January.
“It takes a lot to play well on the road, but we know how important these games are for us,” Robinson said. “We feel good about the way we have played so far and we are looking forward to the trip.”
UF Women Unbeaten
The UF women’s team will be looking for its first 5-0 start since the 2009-10 campaign, but getting there won’t be easy as it will be up against an MTU squad that has won its last three games.
The Oilers (4-0, 2-0 GLIAC) will battle the Huskies (4-1, 2-0) in a 7:30 p.m. conference tilt today at SDC Gymnasium.
“It’s a tough trip to make but we have been up there enough that we aren’t afraid to play there,” UF head coach Kate Cummings said. “We know the game is going to be important and we have to be ready to play hard for 40 minutes.”
The Huskies knocked off Walsh 80-54 on Saturday and are averaging 77.2 ppg while allowing 65.2.
Senior Sam Hoyt (15.2 ppg, 4.8 rpg) leads the charge. Junior forward Taylor Stippel averages 14.8 points for a Huskies team that is shooting 45.8 percent from the floor and 43.2 percent from beyond the arc.
The Oilers are led by senior guard/forward Kayla Brown, who is fourth in the nation in scoring (23.8 ppg). The former Riverdale star ranks third in the country in field goal percentage (64.4).
Senior forward Tai Dotson (10.3 ppg) is also scoring in double figures. The Oilers are averaging 82.5 points per contest and giving up 57.8.