By BRIAN LESTER
University of Findlay men’s basketball coach Charlie Ernst wasn’t sure how the NCAA Division II rule to give student-athletes a six-day break from Dec. 20-26 would impact his team in the long run.
The break, which is a result of the D-II Life in the Balance Initiative, was put in place last season. Teams are not allowed to play or practice during the time off and coaches cannot have any contact with the players.
He questioned the length of it last season, but this year, Ernst welcomes the break with open arms as his Oilers are coming off of a stretch of grueling stretch of games that included six against Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference North Division opponents.
“To be honest, a year ago I thought the break was too long, but we came back and played extremely well,” Ernst said. “It really comes down to how we use this break. I think it’s good for the body, good for the mind and good for the coaches.”
For the coaching staff, it’s a chance to review film and make necessary adjustments, especially since the Oilers will return from the break facing a schedule where they will play eight of their next 12 games away from home.
The run begins with a 3 p.m. nonconference game against Northwestern (Ohio) on Dec. 29 at Croy Gymnasium.
“We can break down our own game and see what we are doing well and what we aren’t doing well,” Ernst said. “We are mindful of the fact that if take advantage of this break and use it the right way, it can be a good thing.”
UF heads into the break at 7-2 overall and 5-1 in the GLIAC. The Oilers are ranked No. 24 in the nation and have won three consecutive games.
Senior forward Jack Smith, who is averaging 6.3 points and 3.6 rebounds per game, believes the break will benefit the Oilers in the long run.
“We’ll have a chance to relax and collect ourselves and, as long as we come back focused, we’ll continue to move in the right direction,” Smith said.
The players do intend to spend a little time working on shooting while they are off, but they also plan on using the time to get healthy so that they are prepared to handle the grind of competing for a GLIAC championship and NCAA tournament berth.
“Everyone is a little banged up, but that’s part of college basketball,” said junior forward Greg Kahlig, who is clicking for a team-best 15 points per outing. “We’ll get into the gym to get some shots, but we also want to get rested up and come back fresh. We have to be ready to get back after it.”
The Oilers knew the first two months of the season were going to be a challenge, especially with a game against top-ranked West Liberty to open the season and a trip to the Upper Peninsula in early December.
Yet, UF managed to get through it, capping the pre-Christmas slate with a game against Grand Valley State on Monday night. UF won 64-60, beating a Lakers team that came to town unbeaten in conference play.
“I preached to the guys that the first half of the season was going to be extremely difficult,” Ernst said. “I am really proud of the guys. It would be nice to be 6-0 in the GLIAC, but 5-1 is the next best thing.”