By BRIAN LESTER
MARQUETTE, Mich. — Holding a morning shoot-around the day of a game would have seemed like the right to move to make, especially after a difficult shooting performance two nights earlier.
The University of Findlay men’s basketball team took a different approach, however, for its game against Northern Michigan Saturday afternoon.
The change paid off in the form of a convincing 80-62 victory at the Berry Events Center.
The No. 13 Oilers were miserable shooting the ball in a 66-49 loss to Michigan Tech on Thursday, connecting on only 34 percent of their shots. But improving their shooting touch was the last thing on their minds as they prepared for a Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference encounter against the Wildcats.
“I told our guys to focus on three things,” UF head coach, Charlie Ernst said.” I told them to get after it on defense, play at a better pace on offense and generate enthusiasm from our bench. We didn’t even have a shoot-around. I told the players that if we did those three things, the shots would fall.”
The plan worked.
UF (5-2, 3-1 GLIAC) shot 56.9 percent (29 of 51) from the field, drilling eight 3-pointers along the way, scored 25 points off of 20 NMU turnovers and thrived on 36 points from the bench, including a career-high 16 points by junior Mark Frilling.
Although the Oilers have a cast of 3-point shooters, they didn’t rely on the outside shot against the Wildcats (1-6, 0-4), who have dropped six consecutive games.
Instead, they capitalized on turnovers, held a 32-16 edge in points in the paint and drilled 14 of 20 attempts from the free-throw line.
“The big thing is we found different ways to score points,” Ernst said. “That was the key for us today, especially in the first half. We did a good job with our defensive pressure and got a lot of opportunities because of our defense.”
Senior guard Aaron Robinson set the tone on defense, tallying five steals. He also got the job done on the offensive end of the floor, pouring in a season-high 18 points, a performance highlighted by a 5-of-5 effort from beyond the arc. He also dished out four assists.
Robinson drilled three of those treys during a key stretch in the first half.
With the Oilers leading 33-24 with 3:54 to play, Robinson hit three consecutive shots from long range and helped UF take a 44-32 lead into halftime.
“Aaron played unbelievable on defense today, maybe as good as I’ve seen him play in a long time,” Ernst said. “He really showed everyone what playing hard and playing with passion on defense can do for a team. Not only that, but he was rewarded for his effort by getting shots to fall from the outside.”
NMU had no answer. Quinten Calloway did what he could to keep the Wildcats in the game, knocking down six 3-pointers en route to scoring 21. Scooter Johnson and Matthew Craggs scored 14 and 12 points, respectively.
NMU shot the ball well (24 of 42, 54.8 percent), but it only forced 10 turnovers.
It was a different story for the Oilers, who offered up a glimpse of their potential when they are clicking on all cylinders.
Jake Heagen scored nine points while Greg Kahlig, Brad Piehl, Alphonso Baity and Dylan Kaufman all scored seven apiece. Jack Smith added six points to go along with four rebounds. Frilling grabbed six rebounds.
“We were coming off of a loss on a very difficult trip and I really thought we did a good job of leaning on our older players today,” Ernst said. “They really showed the way for us and we did a good job of getting a lot of players involved.”
The game was close early on. In fact, the score was tied at 14-14 before Frilling made four layups to fuel a 14-5 run that gave the Oilers a little breathing room.
Frilling got the Oilers going again in the second half after the Wildcats had trimmed the deficit to 53-43 on a jumper by Johnson with 14:11 to go. Frilling hit two shots and two free throws and it ignited a 21-4 run that all but sealed the deal as the Oilers surged in front 74-47.
UF will now host Ferris State (3-3, 2-1) at 1 p.m. Saturday at Croy Gymnasium. It will be the first of three games the Oilers will play at home to close out December. The Bulldogs beat Tiffin 86-70 on Saturday.
findlay (5-2, 3-1)
Heagen 4-5 0-0 9, Kahlig 2-8 3-4 7, Piehl 3-5 1-2 7, Samsel 1-3 0-0 3, Robinson 5-7 3-4 18, Brown 0-0 0-0 0, Baity 2-6 3-4 7, Smith 2-6 2-2 6, Baldwin 0-0 0-0 0, Kaufman 3-3 0-0 7, Brencans 0-0 0-0 0, Frilling 7-8 2-4 16. TOTALS: 29-51 14-20–80.
northern michigan (1-6, 0-4)
Cameron 1-4 0-0 3, Craggs 4-6 2-2 12, Iverson 1-3 1-2 3, Calloway 7-7 1-2 21, Pelkofer 1-3 1-2 3, Johnson 6-13 2-4 14, Jackson 3-6 0-2 6. TOTALS: 23-42 7-14–62.
3-Point GOALS: Findlay 8-18 (Robinson 5-5, Kaufman 1-1, Heagen & Samsel 1-2, Baity & Smith 0-2, Kahlig 0-4); Northern Michigan 9-15 (Calloway 6-6, Craggs 2-3, Cameron 1-3, Jackson 0-1, Pelkofer 0-2).
HALFTIME: Findlay, 44-32.
rebounds: Findlay 22 (Frilling 6); Northern Michigan 19 (Jackson 6). ASSISTS: Findlay 16 (Robinson 4); Northern Michigan 10 (Craggs & Calloway 3). STEALS: Findlay 15 (Robinson 5); Northern Michigan 4. BLOCKS: Findlay 0, Northern Michigan 0.
TURNOVERS: Findlay 10, Northern Michigan 20. TOTAL FOULS: Findlay 14, Northern Michigan 15. FOULED OUT: None.