By BRIAN LESTER
Jake Heagen has been in an offensive funk lately.
With one rim-rocking jam Thursday night against rival Ashland University, the University of Findlay sophomore found the spark he was looking for, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.
The athletic standout rose high above the rim as Aaron Robinson lobbed the ball into the air and threw down a dunk that energized the crowd and the Oilers.
It wasn’t the final nail in the coffin in this fierce in-state rivalry, but after elevating for a tip-in off a missed shot and drilling a 3-pointer during a pivotal stretch in the second half, Heagen helped the Oilers tilt the momentum in a 69-52 Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference win at Croy Gymnasium.
“It’s about time I finally got one (a dunk),” Heagen said as he flashed a smile. “Aaron made a good pass and I was able to throw it down. It was awesome.”
The Eagles were pushing for a comeback before the jam by Heagen and only trailed 34-29. By the time his 3-pointer swished through net with a little over 12 minutes to go, the Oilers had a 47-31 advantage and were on their way to their third consecutive win.
Heagen did more than just make his presence felt on offense. He was active on defense and aggressive on the boards, pulling down six rebounds, dishing out three assists and adding a steal.
“You just have to keep playing hard,” Heagen said. “My whole life I’ve done things the right way, and when you do that, good things happen.”
Findlay head coach Charlie Ernst said he talked with Heagen earlier in the week about his offensive troubles and was happy to see him get back on track in a crucial game that keeps the Oilers (16-6, 13-5 GLIAC) one game up on Hillsdale College in the division with four to go. Findlay is in a three-way tie for second overall in the GLIAC.
“I thought he played less tense on the offensive end,” Ernst said. “It was good to see him play well because he is going to be a key guy for us down the stretch.”
Heagen wasn’t the only one playing well against the Eagles (9-12, 7-11), who came in 0-8 on the road. Greg Kahlig poured in 23 points and grabbed seven rebounds. He is 11 points away from 1,000 career points.
Brad Piehl had one of the best games of his career, dropping in 18 points to go along with a career-high 14 rebounds for his first double-double. Defended by one of the top post players in the league in Evan Yates, the senior mixed things up by backing him down for layups and pulling up for short jumpers. He also tallied three steals.
“(Yates) is such a big presence and sometimes he is hard to go around,” Piehl said. “I made some jumpers and that made it easier for me to get inside.”
Piehl was particularly clutch at the end of the first half. The Oilers had opened the game with a 16-2 advantage but hit a lull as the Eagles battled back behind inside shots from Yates and Dewaun Thomas.
Findlay led 26-23 with 1:40 to go before Piehl responded by hitting a jumper and scoring on a layup as the Oilers led 30-24 at halftime.
“You saw a sense of urgency in a senior,” Ernst said. “Brad came out with the mindset that I’m going to take it at Yates. When he plays Brad Piehl basketball, playing hard, being a rebounder and scoring around the basket, he is tough to stop.”
The Oilers shot 46.3 percent (25 of 54) from the field, including 54.2 percent in the second half.
They struggled to knock down shots from beyond the arc, hitting just 4-of-15, including a 1-of-10 effort in the first half, but they got back to attacking the basket in the second half.
“You are starting to see the transformation where we are playing with more confidence on offense. We have more of a pick-your-poison type of approach,” Ernst said.
The Oilers were disruptive on defense, scoring 17 points off 13 turnovers, and never allowed Yates to have an impact on the game even though he scored 18.
The Eagles, who had won four in a row, shot 41.2 percent (21 of 51) and made only three treys against a Findlay team that ranks fifth nationally in 3-point defense (28.1) percent.
“I thought we had a good game plan defensively and we executed it,” Ernst said. “We were really glued to our scouting report and knew the strengths and weaknesses of their players.”
The win puts the Oilers one step closer to a division crown and bolsters their hopes of returning to the NCAA Division II tournament. They will look to keep the momentum at 1 p.m. Saturday when they host Lake Erie College (7-15, 4-14), which fell 77-70 Thursday at Hillsdale.
“We’re motivated because we want to win the South,” Heagen said. “This was a good win, but we have to get back to work and get ready for the next one.”
Ashland (9-12, 7-11)
Yates 7-11 4-11 18, Evans 1-3 0-0 2, Turson 0-0 0-0 0, Krizancic 7-10 0-0 17, Thomas 3-10 3-3 9, Harris 1-6 0-0 2, Honigford 0-1 0-0 0, Pickens 0-1 0-0 0, Meyer 2-9 0-0 4. TOTALS: 21-51 7-14–52.
Findlay (16-6, 13-5)
Heagen 5-7 1-2 11, Kahlig 8-13 4-4, Piehl 7-11 4-4 18, Baity 1-4 4-4 6, Robinson 1-5 0-0 2, Samsel 1-5 0-0 2, Brown 0-0 0-1 0, Baker 0-0 0-0 0, Smith 1-6 2-2 4, Baldwin 0-0 0-0 0, Kaufman 1-2 0-0 3, Kohls 0-0 0-0 0, Frilling 0-0 0-0 0. TOTALS: 25-54 15-17–69.
HALFTIME: Findlay, 30-24.
3-Point GOALS: Ashland 3-14 (Harris 0-1, Honigford 0-1, Meyer 0-3, Evans 0-2, Krizancic 3-6, Thomas 0-1); Findlay 4-15 (Heagen 1-2, Kahlig 2-4, Piehl 0-1, Robinson 0-2, Samsel 0-3, Smith 0-1, Kaufman 1-2).
rebounds: Findlay 40 (Piehl 14, Kahlig 7); Ashland 26. STEALS: Findlay 7 (Piehl 3); Ashland 5 (Thomas 4). ASSISTS: Findlay 15, Ashland 7.
turnovers: Findlay 13, Ashland 12.
FOULS: Ashland 17, Findlay 13.
FOULED OUT: Ashland, Evans.
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