By BRIAN LESTER
HILLSDALE, Mich. — Brad Piehl had the perfect look at the basket.
Standing on the top of the 3-point line, the senior put up a shot when the University of Findlay men’s basketball team desperately needed a basket.
The shot was on target, and for a moment, it looked like it was going to be good as the Oilers faced a five-point deficit with 54 seconds remaining.
But the ball rattled halfway in and rattled out.
The Oilers cut the lead to 52-51 on a tip-in by Greg Kahlig, but Hillsdale College used four free throws to seal a 56-51 Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference win Saturday afternoon at Jesse Phillips Arena.
Piehl, who was 0-of-6 floor but did have a couple of steals late to help fuel a big comeback, talked about the missed opportunities on day when the Oilers shot 35.8 percent (19 of 53) from the floor.
“It rimmed in and out. It would have been a definite momentum swing had it gone in,” Piehl said. “We had some good looks in the second half and capitalized on some of them, but Hillsdale played well and we didn’t do enough to win.”
Findlay (13-6, 10-5 GLIAC) still has a half-game lead in the South Division, but it’s hopes of returning to the NCAA Division II tournament will likely hinge on making a title run in the conference tournament.
The Oilers trailed 32-20 at halftime, turning the ball over eight times and hitting just 9 of 26 shots from the floor in the opening period. Findlay also failed to match the intensity of the Chargers (13-6, 9-6), who surged into halftime on a 9-0 run that was fueled by Brandon Pritzl’s 3-pointer and jumper.
“The first half was really disappointing,” Findlay head coach Charlie Ernst said. “I thought they out-toughed us. We didn’t respond to it. We tried to find excuses rather than just play.”
The Chargers shot 51.9 percent in the opening half and took advantage of easy inside baskets by 6-foot-10 Nick Washburn, who scored 12. They finished shooting 48.9 percent (22 of 45). Tim Dezelski paced Hillsdale with 16 points.
“We should have played harder in the first half,” Piehl said. “You can miss shots or get into foul trouble, or other things can happen, but when you don’t play hard, it’s tough to win games, especially on the road.”
The Chargers played like a team hungry for a win after two straight losses. But with a 44-24 lead seven minutes into the second half, the Oilers came to life.
Aaron Robinson (10 points) and Jack Smith knocked down back-to-back treys and Kahlig’s layup off a drive cut the Hillsdale lead to 46-38 with 7:26 to play.
Findlay closed the gap to one as Kahlig grabbed a rebound and put it in for a layup, but with 2.7 seconds remaining and Findlay trailing 54-51, the Oilers needed a 3-pointer to force overtime.
Jake Heagen, who has made 11 treys and has been one of the team’s most consistent scorers, was fouled before he could get a shot off. Heagen missed the front end of the one-and-one and the Chargers held on. The sophomore scored 9 points and tallied two steals.
“The game was determined long before that free throw,” Ernst said. “Give Hillsdale credit. They played with the toughness of a team that needed to have this win.”
The situation the Oilers were backed into in the final seconds was a tough one. It was almost a sure-thing that Hillsdale would foul rather than give up the trey.
“We designed the play to get a 3-pointer off in space because you know they are going to foul you,” Ernst said. “We needed to get him by himself so he had time to get the shot off. Fouling him was the smart thing to do.”
The Oilers, who beat the Chargers here a year ago in the conference tournament championship game, closed the game on a 27-12 run.
Their comeback was fueled by the fact that they played with more energy and forced the Chargers to struggle against their zone defense.
Several Hillsdale possessions ended with missed shots or turnovers.
“We made them uneasy on their offensive end and they came unglued with their defensive plan because they were so occupied with their problems on offense,” Ernst said. “We mixed up our zones and they were effective late. I’m not surprised our guys came back. We’ve done it before. I just can’t get that first half out of my head.”
Seven games remain in the regular season, including a 5:30 p.m. game Thursday at Ohio Dominican (4-16, 1-14) and the Oilers are one of three teams tied for third overall in the league standings. ODU was outscored 98-92 at Tiffin on Saturday.
Heagen 4-5 0-1 9, Kahlig 4-11 2-2 10, Piehl 0-6 0-0 0, Baity 2-8 2-2 7, Robinson 3-6 2-2 10, Samsel 0-1 0-0 0, Brown 1-2 0-0 2, Smith 3-6 1-2 8, Kaufman 1-4 0-0 3, Frilling 1-4 0-0 2. TOTALS: 19-53 7-9–51.
Dezelski 7-12 2-2 16, Washburn 6-9 0-0 12, Smith 0-1 0-1 0, Ware 1-3 2-2 4, Pritzl 4-9 0-0 11, Nelson 1-4 2-2 5, Manno 1-1 0-0 3, Grose 1-1 0-0 2, Choiniere 1-5 0-0 3. TOTALS: 22-45 6-7–56.
HALFTIME: Hillsdale, 32-20.
3-Point GOALS: Findlay 6-21 (Robinson 2-5, Heagen 1-2, Smith 1-2, Kaufman 1-2, Baity 1-4, Samsel 0-1, Piehl 0-2, Kahlig 0-3); Hillsdale 6-18 (Pritzl 3-7, Manno 1-1, Nelson 1-2, Choiniere 1-2, Washburn 0-1, Smith 0-1, Ware 0-1, Dezelski 0-3).
rebounds: Findlay 30 (Piehl & Kaufman 5, Smith 4); Hillsdale 29 (Ware 7, Nelson & Choiniere 4). ASSISTS: Findlay 7; Hillsdale 15 (Choiniere 5, Smith 4). STEALS: Findlay 9 (Heagen, Piehl & Smith 2); Hillsdale 7 (Dezelski 3). BLOCKS: Findlay 2, Hillsdale 4.
TURNOVERS: Findlay 11, Hillsdale 13. TOTAL FOULS: Findlay 11, Hillsdale 13. FOULED OUT: Findlay, Heagen.