By BRIAN LESTER
Alphonso Baity had missed four straight free throws, but when his University of Findlay teammates needed him to step up, the sophomore point guard rose to the occasion.
Baity drilled two clutch free throws with 27 seconds left, pushing the lead over Wayne State back to seven, and helped the Oilers hold off the rival Warriors 72-65 in a Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference showdown Saturday afternoon at Croy Gymnaisum.
Baity injured his knee earlier in the half and had to sit out for nearly seven minutes as he battled through the pain.
In the end, he was there when it mattered, capping off a performance where he scored 14 points, grabbed five rebounds, dished out two assists and blocked a shot.
His two free throws gave UF a 68-61 lead.
“I got a cramp and a Charley horse. It was a double whammy for me,” Baity said. “But Austin (Gardner) and Sean (Samsel) did a good job of stepping up when I was out. I felt good getting back out there, though, and was glad I could help my team out.”
Baity played with confidence, attacking the basket and pulling up for short jumpers. He scored 10 of his points in the first half and came out of the game with just under 14 minutes to play after nailing two free throws that put the Oilers up 43-36. Baity needed help off the floor but the injury was not as serious as it looked.
“It was a gutsy effort, and it was good to see him play well,” UF head coach Charlie Ernst said. “He might have scored another four or six points had he been healthy.”
The Oilers (9-3, 5-3 GLIAC) needed a gutsy effort to take out the Warriors in a typical slugfest between the two fierce GLIAC rivals.
Leads were short-lived — the lead changed hands nine times — and the teams were tied eight times. The Oilers trailed 34-33 at the break before taking control in the second half en route to their second consecutive win.
UF set the tone in the second half with its defense, forcing the Warriors to take tough shots. Baity’s block on a layup attempt by Chene Phillips set up a 3-pointer on the other end for Jake Heagen, who swished his shot through the net for a 43-36 advantage.
Heagen’s trey in the corner at the start of the second half nudged the Oilers in front 36-34 and UF never trailed again.
“We take a lot of pride in beating Wayne State,” Ernst said. “They compete hard and it took a gutsy effort on our part.”
Heagen finished with 13 points and played a pivotal role in defending Bryan Coleman, who was a non-factor in the final 20 minutes after burning UF for 14 points in the first half.
Coleman scored 25 to pace the Warriors (6-5, 4-4).
“We made a decision at halftime that Bryan Coleman wasn’t going to beat us by himself,” Ernst said. “He’s a tough shot maker and the best way to guard a player like that is to not let him touch the ball.”
WSU, meanwhile, had no luck keeping Greg Kahlig from touching the ball. The senior torched the Warriors for 27 points.
Typically a threat from the outside, Kahlig did most of his damage by attacking the basket for layups against the smaller Phillips. His drive to the hoop with 10 minutes left put the Oilers in front 51-40.
“They put Chene on me and I had the height advantage. I tried to exploit that,” Kahlig said. “My teammates were able to find me down low and I was able to make some shots.”
The Oilers shot 39.2 percent (20 of 51) from the field and only turned the ball over seven times. Samsel hit a big 3-pointer with under seven minutes left to push the UF lead to 57-46 and five straight points by Kahlig stretched the lead to 64-52 with 2:53 to go.
The Warriors, who shot 41.8 percent (23 of 55) from the floor, battled back and got as close as five at 66-61 before the Oilers closed the door with six straight free throws. UF was 26 of 38 from the line.
“We stepped up when we needed to at the line, and that was good for our confidence,” Ernst said. “The big thing is we didn’t turn the ball over. That is big against a team like Wayne State, which is never out of a game.”
The Oilers forced 16 turnovers, scoring 19 points off those miscues.
Now, they will take their act on the road as they battle Ohio Dominican (3-9, 1-7) at 7:30 p.m. Thursday in Columbus.
“We really stepped up on defense and it was huge to get some separation from them,” Kahlig said. “We beat a very good team today and learned some things this week about finishing games. Hopefully, we can take those lessons on the road and continue to win.”
Follow me on Twitter @BLester1993.