By BRIAN LESTER
DETROIT — Brad Piehl sat by his locker early Saturday afternoon in the wake of the University of Findlay men’s basketball team’s 65-61 gut-wrenching overtime loss to rival Wayne State University.
He wasn’t devastated, but it was clear the senior forward was feeling a mix of frustration and disappointment as he reflected on a missed opportunity that could have led the No. 24 Oilers to a pivotal Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference victory over the Warriors.
Piehl had the ball in the final seconds of regulation and the game tied 55-55. He didn’t hesitate to take a shot.
If it had gone in, the Oilers (9-3, 6-2 GLIAC) would have moved into a tie for first place in the conference.
But the ball bounced a little too hard off the glass and the Warriors (8-2, 7-0) limited the Oilers to two field goals in overtime to secure the victory.
“I thought I had an up and under move,” Piehl said. “I probably should have tried to get a couple of free throws, especially coming off the screen. It didn’t happen.”
While Piehl’s shot didn’t fall, there were plenty of opportunities for Findlay to seal the deal on a day when it exhausted every ounce of energy in a showdown that featured six ties and six lead changes.
What hurt the Oilers the most was the 23 turnovers that led to 25 Wayne State points.
“It stings as much as any game I’ve ever lost here,” head coach Charlie Ernst said. “Sometimes you win when you get outplayed, but today, I thought we lost a game where maybe the basketball gods weren’t with us. I felt like we outplayed them.”
The Oilers shot 37.9 percent (22-of-58) from the field and held a 42-36 advantage on the boards. But they were outscored 44-26 in the paint, many of those points coming off easy baskets in transition.
Perhaps the story would have been different had Findlay not been down a starter. Jake Heagen (8.2 points per game) suffered a cut above his eye while driving the lane against Saginaw Valley State on Thursday night and did not play Saturday.
Even with the turnovers, not having a starter, and playing on the road against a legitimate GLIAC title contender, the Oilers were still in the game.
“For us to come in here without Jake and outfight them says a lot about our team. I’m disappointed for our guys for not having a better result,” Ernst said. “We have to get better at protecting the ball, but our effort, there is no question we brought our A-game effort today.”
Piehl had a lot to do with it. He drilled a 3-pointer that tied the game 3-3 and his putback off a missed trey gave the Oilers an 18-9 advantage. Moments later, he drove past a defender for a layup and followed it with a jumper that extended the Oilers’ advantage to 22-12 with 6:24 to go in the first half.
Piehl, who was aggressive throughout the game, scored 13 points and pulled down six rebounds.
Jack Smith filled in nicely for Heagen, playing with the determination one would expect from a senior. Smith dropped in 17 points and grabbed six rebounds. His trey from the corner with 3:42 to go in the first half gave the Oilers their biggest lead at 27-16.
“It’s always tough playing at Wayne State. I’ve never played a game here where it wasn’t tough,” Smith said. “I tried to play hard and give the best effort I could, but in the end, we didn’t make enough plays.”
Wayne State started to swing the momentum late in the opening half. Cole Prophet (13 points) came up with a steal and scored on a layup. He was fouled on the play and hit the free throw as Findlay went into halftime up 29-26.
The Oilers took charge early in the second half, forcing the Warriors to miss shots from the outside and challenged Wayne State in the paint. Mark Frilling’s layup with 15 minutes to play put Findlay in front 37-28.
Shots became tougher to come by as the half wore on, though, and the Oilers hurt themselves with turnovers. A steal by Mike Hollingsworth gave Wayne State a 42-41 lead with 6:52 left in regulation. Hollingsworth (15 points) came up with another steal a few minutes later and put the Warriors on top 48-43.
Yet the Oilers responded even as the Wayne State crowd came to life. Aaron Robinson (10 points) knocked down a deep trey and Greg Kahlig (11 points) buried a 3-pointer as the Oilers pulled to within 51-49.
Piehl’s layup tied it 53-53 and Kahlig’s layup put the Oilers in front 55-53. Chene Phillips, a transfer from Division I Liberty who came in averaging 17.4 points per outing but was held to 8 points, scored on a putback to tie it again at 55-55.
But the Oilers were unable to convert and were forced to overtime for the third time in the history of this rivalry.
The Warriors took the lead for good at 59-57 on a layup off a steal by Phillips, and finished shooting 40.3 percent (25-of-62) from the field.
“Our team has different guys who can step up on a given night, and tonight, I thought we gave a total team effort,” Ernst said. But we win as a team and we lose as a team.”
Findlay and Wayne State could very well meet again in the conference tournament, just as they have the last two years.
For now, the Oilers’ focus is on Ohio Dominican (3-10, 0-8), which plays Findlay at 6 p.m. Thursday at Croy Gymnasium. The Panthers lost 77-60 to Northwood on Saturday.
“Every game is big, and we have to turn around and come out with a little fire in our belly and get things done on Thursday night,” Piehl said.
findlay (9-3, 6-2)
Smith 7-13 1-3 17, Kahlig 4-12 2-2 11, Piehl 5-14 2-2 13, Samsel 1-5 2-2 4, Robinson 3-9 2-3 10, Brown 0-1 0-0 0, Baity 0-0 0-0 0, Kaufman 1-3 0-0 2, Brencans 0-0 0-0 0, Frilling 1-1 2-4 4. TOTALS: 22-58 11-16–61.
wayne state (8-2, 7-0)
Williams-Taylor 3-3 0-0 6, Larkin 3-10 6-8 12, Phillips 3-12 2-3 8, Prophet 4-12 5-6 13, Hollingsworth 7-12 0-0 15, Coleman 3-7 0-0 7, Ragland 1-5 0-0 2, Martin 1-1 0-0 2. TOTALS: 25-62 13-17–65.
HALFTIME: Tied 55-55.
3-Point GOALS: Findlay 6-27 (Smith 2-7, Robinson 2-7, Piehl 1-3, Kahlig 1-4, Brown 0-1, Kaufman 0-1, Samsel 0-4); Wayne State 2-13 (Coleman 1-3, Hollingsworth 1-4, Larkin 0-2, Prophet 0-4).
rebounds: Findlay 42 (Frilling 7, Smith, Kahlig & Piehl 6); Wayne State 36 (Larkin & Hollingsworth 9). ASSISTS: Findlay 11 (Samsel 6); Wayne State 4 (Propet 2). STEALS: Findlay 4 (Samsel 3); Wayne State 13 (Phillips 5). BLOCKS: Findlay 3, Wayne State 0.
TURNOVERS: Findlay 23, Wayne State 14. TOTAL FOULS: Findlay 15, Wayne State 16. FOULED OUT: None.
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