By BRIAN LESTER
ASHLAND — Time stood still as Duwaun Thomas’ shot danced on the rim with the crowd on the edge of its seat and the outcome hanging in the balance during the final suspenseful seconds of the University of Findlay men’s basketball game Thursday night against Ashland University.
The Oilers were clinging to a one-point advantage at Kates Gymnasiumt, and in that moment, they were at the mercy of the ball.
Thomas’ shot went in and the Eagles went in front by one.
The Oilers had 1.5 seconds to make something happen but a last-gasp 3-point shot by Jake Heagen in front of the Findlay bench was off the mark and the Oilers suffered a 61-60 Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference loss.
Findlay head coach Charlie Ernst saw the Oilers play hard but they couldn’t get the defensive stop they needed against Thomas.
“It seemed like the ball was on the rim forever,” Ernst said. “The ball bouncing on the rim was the best thing they could have hoped for because it ran more time off the clock. We had two timeouts left, but I swear it hung on the rim for three seconds and used up time deciding whether it wanted to go in.”
The shot by Thomas might have not made a difference had Aaron Robinson, who averages 81 percent at the line, been able to hit two free throws with 13 seconds left and the Oilers in front 60-59.
But the blame cannot be pinned solely on Robinson. The Oilers (10-5, 7-4), who have dropped two consecutive games and are now tied with Hillsdale for first place in the South Division, had other chances.
The Oilers went 14 of 19 from the line, shot only 37.7 percent (20 of 53) from the field and were 6 of 21 from beyond the arc.
The Eagles (5-9, 3-8) ended a four-game losing streak.
“We have lost three games that have come down to the last possession, but that is the fine line I’ve been preaching about in this conference,” Ernst said. “It doesn’t take much to win and lose in this league. It looks like a horrible loss to a lot of people, but the reality is Ashland is a good team.”
Findlay’s effort was questioned in the 57-55 loss to Tiffin on Saturday.
“I wasn’t worried about our effort,” Ernst said. “The players were motivated and hungry.”
With freshman Alphonso Baity making his first start at point guard, the Oilers surged in front 20-13 with 10:40 to play on a 3-pointer by Sean Samsel, who had been Findlay’s starting point guard.
A 3-pointer by Greg Kahlig gave Findlay a 27-19 advantage with under five minutes to go in the half but the Eagles refused to go away and only trailed 29-26 at the half.
Jake Heagen was aggressive to start the second half as he slashed into the lane for two layups and put the Oilers in front 35-31 with 17 minutes remaining.
Mark Frilling’s dunk attempt on a fast break off a steal was wiped out as the ball got caught on the rim, but Jack Smith made up for it moments later by making a layup for a 41-40 lead.
Findlay tried to pull away when Samsel and Kahlig connected on back-to-back treys for a 49-44 lead but the Oilers went 11 of 16 from the line in the final five minutes.
“We took a couple of quick shots where we didn’t read our matchups or the score and clock very well,” Ernst said. “We also kept splitting free throws. We have won a lot of games over the years making free throws. Tonight, we lost one.”
Kahlig led the Oilers with 21 points. Heagen added 8 points and seven rebounds.
Ashland shot 40 percent (24 of 60) from the field and got 15 points and 11 rebounds from Evan Yates. Ronnie Steward also scored 15 points.
“The thing is, our guys didn’t care who was the leading scorer or rebounder or anything else,” Ashland head coach John Ellenwood said. “We just cared that it was an Ashland win. It was a big win.”
And for the Oilers, it was a loss they must forget quickly with a road game against Lake Erie at 1 p.m. Saturday. The Storm lost 59-52 to Hillsdale Thursday.
“It’s my job to get us back on track and stay positive,” Ernst said. “The biggest thing is our mental psyche because the guys are spent physically and only have an L to show for it.”
findlay (10-5, 7-4)
Heagen 3-9 2-2 8, Kahlig 5-12 8-9 21, Piehl 3-10 0-0 6, Baity 0-2 0-0 0, Robinson 2-6 2-4 7, Samsel 2-3 0-0 6, Smith 2-4 1-2 5, Kaufman 0-3 0-0 0, Frilling 3-4 1-2 7. TOTALS: 20-53 14-19–60.
ashland (5-9, 3-8)
Yates 6-12 3-7 15, Evans 5-7 2-2 14, Steward 6-12 0-0 15, Thomas 4-14 0-1 8, Turson 0-5 0-0 0, Krizancic 0-0 0-0 0, Harris 1-6 0-0 3, Honigford 2-3 0-0 6, Meyer 0-1 0-0 0. TOTALS: 24-60 5-10–61.
HALFTIME: Findlay, 29-26.
3-Point GOALS: Findlay 6-21 (Samsel 2-3 Kahlig 3-7, Robinson 1-4, Piehl 0-1, Baity 0-1, Smith 0-1, Heagen 0-2, Kaufman 0-2); Findlay 8-23 (Steward 3-5, Honigford 2-2, Evans 2-3, Harris 1-4, Turson 0-3, Thomas 0-6).
rebounds: Findlay 32 (Heagen & Piehl 7); Ashland 44 (Yates 11, Evans 9). ASSISTS: Findlay 9 (Robinson 2); Ashland 13 (Evans, Steward & Thomas 3). STEALS: Findlay 4 (Frilling 2); Ashland 2. BLOCKS: Findlay 7 (Frilling 2); Ashland 0.
TURNOVERS: Findlay 5, Ashland 8. TOTAL FOULS: Findlay 14, Ashland 18. FOULED OUT: Ashland, Turson.