By BRIAN LESTER
Yet, when it was time to make plays in a physical game against the Lakers on Monday night at Croy Gymnasium, the University of Findlay junior forward found a way in the Oilers’ 64-60 win.
Twice in the final minute of a Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference game, Kahlig rose to the occasion.
He scored on a putback that stretched the lead to five (60-55) with 36 seconds left and then hit two clutch free throws with 20.8 seconds remaining to put UF in front by four (62-58) to seal the deal on the victory.
“They did a good job of trying to keep the ball out of my hands and made it hard to get to the basket,” Kahlig said. “But I kept attacking, and I was aggressive on the boards. When I did get open, my teammates found me and I made some shots.”
Kahlig scored a team-high 14 on 3 of 5 shooting. One of his biggest plays of came in the final minute of the opening half.
With the No. 24 Oilers (7-2, 5-1 GLIAC) trailing by five and the Lakers (8-2, 5-1) on the verge of stealing momentum, Kahlig launched a 3-pointer and was knocked to the floor as the shot swished through the net to fire up the crowd.
He hit the free throw and UF went into the break trailing 28-27 before buckling down for a back-and-forth second half.
The two teams combined for 50 fouls. A double technical was called after a free-throw attempt and Brad Piehl was tackled by Tyrone Lee while chasing down a loose ball in the second half.
If that wasn’t enough, a fan was almost thrown out of the game for voicing his opinion to the official.
There is never a dull moment in this rivalry, which always has a lot riding on it.
“This is the type of game that defines your team,” UF head coach Charlie Ernst said. “Can you match their physicality? Can you match their toughness? Can you make plays with under a minute to go when things are tightening up?”
The answer to every question was yes.
Findlay led 57-48 with just over five minutes to play but GVSU tightened up on defense and applied full-court pressure. It got within 58-55 after a 3-pointer by Breland Hogan (23 points), who was the only player in double figures for the Lakers.
Senior forward Jack Smith did his part to help the Oilers hang on, doing most of his work on defense while scoring three points and grabbing three rebounds.
He even handled the ball several times with the GVSU point guard defending him.
“It takes a whole team effort to win a game like this,” Smith said. “We knew it was going to be rough and physical. We just wanted to keep our cool and play strong and tough with them.”
Ernst was pleased with the effort Smith gave off the bench for the Oilers, who shot 34.8 percent (16 of 46) from the field and had 17 turnovers.
“Jack has matured so much on the defensive end,” Ernst said. “The big thing is he has become a very good ball-handler. He makes good decisions and doesn’t panic.”
Although offense was tough to come by against the Lakers, who came in third in the nation in points allowed (55.9), the Oilers came through with big shots when they needed them.
Shots such as the layup and free throw by Mark Frilling that gave UF a 48-42 lead or the 3-pointer by Sean Samsel that gave the Oilers a 53-46 advantage.
Samsel only scored six points but dished out three assists and tallied one steal.
“They are the first team that has really pressured us a lot,” Samsel said. “I had a couple of bone-head plays, but everyone does. Other than that, I thought I did a good job of taking care of the ball.”
Piehl (13 points) was the only other player in double figures for UF, which stretched its GLIAC home win streak to 80 games and held its sixth opponent to 70 points or fewer.
The Lakers, who came in on a seven-game win streak, shot 48.9 percent (23 of 47) from the floor but had 19 turnovers as the Oilers leaned heavily on their man-to-man defense.
“Grand Valley came out with a purpose and it took us awhile to adjust to how physical this game was going to be,” Ernst said. “It took us awhile to figure out man-to-man was going to be our best bet. Once we did, we settled down and played great.”
The Oilers struggled to play an entire half of solid defense in their 82-81 overtime win over Ferris State on Saturday, but were pleased with the strides they made against GVSU.
“I thought we did a good job of playing hard the whole time in the second half,” Kahlig said. “That was huge against a really good team. It’s a step in the right direction.”
This game could have been a step in the wrong direction.
The Oilers struggled early to keep the Lakers out of the paint as GVSU built an 11-4 lead by scoring easily inside, including a thunderous dunk by Kristers Zeidaks.
But the Oilers eventually settled in and started to battle back when Aaron Robinson knocked down a 3-pointer after a steal by Smith, who drove in for a layup moments later to trim the GVSU lead to 11-9.
Neither team had much luck building a lead.
The Lakers never led by more than eight and the Oilers’ biggest lead was nine when Piehl hit two free throws for a 55-46 lead after Lee fell on top of him while he jumped on a loose ball near the press table.
The Oilers head into the 12-day Christmas break feeling good. They have won seven of their last eight and five wins have come against rugged North Division opponents.
“This is the most difficult stretch of games that I can remember in a while,” Ernst said. “I am really proud of our players because we have played some very good teams. I’d like to be 6-0 in the GLIAC, but 5-1 is the next best thing.”
Grand Valley (8-2, 5-1 GLIAC)
Zeidaks 2-6 0-0 4, Lee 4-5 1-2 9, Hogan 8-14 4-5 23, Majerle 2-5 0-0 5, Sabin 1-6 0-0 2, Washington 0-1 0-0 0, Somerfield 0-0 0-0 0, Woodson 0-1 2-2 2, Ansons 1-1 0-0 3, Norman 3-4 2-2 8, Peters 2-4 0-0 4, Carbajal 0-0 0-0 0. TOTALS: 23-27 9-11 60.
Findlay (7-2, 5-1 GLIAC)
Heagen 2-8 5-8 9, Kahlig 3-5 6-8 14, Piehl 3-6 7-8 13, Samsel 2-7 0-0 6, Robinson 2-5 2-2 8, Brown 0-0 2-2 2, Baity 0-2 0-0 0, Smith 1-6 1-2 3, Kaufman 1-2 0-0 3, Frilling 2-5 2-3 6. TOTALS: 16-46 25-33 64.
3-Point GOALS: Grand Valley 5-19 (Hogan 3-5, Majerle 1-3, Ansons 1-1, Sabin 0-4, Zeidaks 0-3, Peters 0-2, Woodson 0-1); Findlay 7-20 (Kahlig 2-2, Robinson 2-4, Samsel 2-6, Kaufman 1-2, Heagen 0-3, Baity 0-1, Smith 0-1).
rebounds: Grand Valley 30 (Zeidaks 6, Lee 5); Findlay 31 (Kahlig, Heagen & Frilling 6).
ASSISTS: Grand Valley 9 (Hogan & Zeidaks 2); Findlay 10 (Samsel 3, Robinson 2).
STEALS: Grand Valley 5 (Woodson 2); Findlay 6 (Robinson 2).
BLOCKS: Grand Valley 2 (Zeidaks & Norman); Findlay 0.
TURNOVERS: Grand Valley 19, Findlay 17.
TOTAL FOULS: Grand Valley 30, Findlay 20.
FOULED OUT: Grand Valley, Zeidaks, Lee, Carbajal; Findlay, Robinson.
HALFTIME: Grand Valley, 28-27.