By BRIAN LESTER
Sometimes it is the pressure-packed moments of a basketball game that ultimately determines how a season plays out.
It remains to be seen what will become of the University of Findlay men’s team.
But when the outcome hung in the balance Saturday in a pivotal Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference encounter, the No. 24 Oilers rose to the occasion against Ferris State University at Croy Gymnasium.
UF thrived in an exhausting 82-81 overtime win and in the final frantic six seconds of overtime when the Oilers pushed FSU point guard Dietrich Lever into a position where he simply could not make a play.
The Bulldogs never got a shot off and the Oilers walked off with a sense of relief and a boost of confidence against a quality opponent.
Senior guard Aaron Robinson was in on the defensive effort on the final play and talked about the mindset in that final pressure-filled situation as chants of “Defense” boomed through the gym.
“Their point guard is small. We knew if we put our hands up he wasn’t going to get a shot off,” Robinson said. “Games like this can determine a team’s season. Ferris is a good team. Give them credit. But we know we can’t lose games at home.”
Mark Frilling came down with a huge defensive rebound moments earlier, drawing a foul as he fell to the floor clutching the ball in his hands after Drew Lehman watched the ball roll off the rim on a layup attempt.
Frilling missed both of his attempts from the line, leaving UF clinging to a one-point advantage with six seconds to go and leaving the announced crowd of 719 on the edge of its seat.
UF Coach Charlie Ernst made sure the Oilers were ready to get the job done defensively on a day when they struggled to slow down a talented and determined FSU squad that shot 50.9 percent (28 of 55) from the field and had four players in double figures.
“There are a million things you can practice for the end of a game, but sometimes the best practice is to actually be in the situation,” Ernst said. “We contained their initial thrust to the ball. We wanted to make them shoot a 3-pointer. We backed up our defense and shielded the 3-point line while protecting the gaps. We did a good job of executing.”
It certainly didn’t look good for the Oilers (6-2, 4-1 GLIAC) with a little more than three minutes to play in regulation. But on a day when UF trailed by as many as 10, it never lacked confidence.
Robinson drilled a 3-pointer in front of the UF bench, slicing the Bulldogs’ lead to 74-72. He would hit another clutch trey in OT as he lifted the Oilers into a 78-78 tie.
“I was taking what they were giving me,” Robinson said. “I didn’t want to lose. That is what it came down to.”
Robinson was 3-of-3 from beyond the arc and scored 14 points to go along with three rebounds and two steals. He has hit his last eight shots from long range.
“Those two 3-pointers were game-savers,” Ernst said. “If he misses either one, I don’t know if we win. Both were tough 3s and deep 3s. They gave us momentum.”
As big as those shots were, sophomore forward Jake Heagen also stepped up. Heagen (12 points, four rebounds) made all four of his shots from the field, but his biggest was a layup with 44 seconds left.
As players from both teams scrambled for a loose ball, Heagen stepped in and got his hands on it and drove right in for the shot, tying the score at 74-74. The Bulldogs (4-4, 3-2) were unable to respond and the game went to OT.
“I’m always being active, hustling and trying to make plays,” Heagen said. “Fortunately the ball bounced my way. When you play hard the entire game, those things happen.”
Senior forward Brad Piehl was called upon to make something happen as well. He got to the line twice in the final minute and nailed all four attempts en route to a career-high 21 points, including 16 from the line. The one miss he had in 17 attempts wasn’t on his mind in crunch time as he gave UF an 82-81 lead.
“I felt good taking those shots,” Piehl said. “As a senior, I knew I had to step up and make them for the team. It was a crucial moment.”
Greg Kahlig catapulted the Oilers to an 8-2 lead with a pair of 3-pointers in the early going, but the Bulldogs weren’t about to get blown off the floor.
FSU came here on a two-game win streak and roared back to life behind an aggressive rebounding effort and the sharp-shooting Lehman, who scored 18 points, pulled down seven rebounds and dished out five assists.
His jumper stretched the Bulldogs’ lead to 34-25 and Kenny Brown converted a 3-point play to give the Bulldogs a 37-27 advantage.
The Oilers, with a lineup that included reserves Alphonso Baity and Dylan Kaufman, along with a few minutes of action from reserve Josh Brown, continued to battle.
Piehl made six free throws, Heagen drilled a jumper in the lane as UF closed the half on an 11-2 run and held FSU scoreless from the field in the final five minutes.
The Oilers shot 46.2 percent (25 of 52) from the field and Kahlig added 13 points. UF was outrebounded 34-27 but only turned the ball over 10 times.
“Ferris State came in here with a purpose and played more aggressively and more passionately than we did most of the game,” Ernst said. “On the flip side we found a way to win.”
UF won’t have much time to enjoy it. Rival Grand Valley State comes to town at 6 p.m. Monday for a GLIAC tilt. The Lakers (8-1, 5-0) beat Hillsdale 67-58 on Saturday.
ferris state (4-4, 3-2)
Sutherlin 5-7 10-11 20, Stolicker 2-2 2-2 6, Lever 6-12 0-0 14, Brown 4-11 4-4 13, Lehman 8-16 1-1 18, Messer 0-1 1-4 1, McAfee 3-5 1-2 7, Jackson 0-1 2-2 2, Cribbs 0-0 0-0 0. TOTALS: 28-55 21-26–81.
findlay (6-2, 4-1)
Kahlig 5-10 0-1 13, Heagen 4-4 4-4 12, Piehl 2-7 16-17 21, Robinson 4-6 3-4 14, Samsel 3-6 0-0 7, Frilling 1-4 0-2 2, Smith 2-4 0-0 5, Kaufman 3-9 0-0 8, Baity 0-2 0-0 0, Brown 0-0 0-0 0. TOTALS: 24-52 23-28–82.
HALFTIME: Ferris State, 39-38. END OF REGULATION: 74-74.
3-Point GOALS: Ferris State 4-11 (Lever 2-3, Lehman 1-2, Brown 1-6); Findlay 11-21 (Robinson 3-3, Kahlig 3-5, Kaufman 2-4, Piehl 1-1, Smith 1-3, Samsel 1-4, Baity 0-1).
rebounds: Ferris State 34 (Sutherlin & Lehman 7); Findlay 27 (Smith 6). ASSISTS: Ferris State 17 (Brown & Lehman 5); Findlay 14 (Samsel 7, Heagen 3). STEALS: Ferris State 7 (Brown 2); Findlay 7 (Kahlig 3, Robinson 2). BLOCKS: Ferris State 6 (McAfee 3); Findlay 2.
TURNOVERS: Ferris State 13, Findlay 10. TOTAL FOULS: Ferris State 22, Findlay 18. FOULED OUT: None.