By BRIAN LESTER
TIFFIN — Jake Heagen knew someone had to respond for the University of Findlay men’s basketball.
The Oilers watched their double-digit lead get trimmed to six points early in the second half, and if something didn’t change, Tiffin was going to steal the momentum in this Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference tilt at the Gillmor Center.
Heagen made sure the Oilers struck back, scoring on a layup and drilling a 3-pointer on back-to-back possessions as UF stretched its lead to 11 and went on to dominate the Dragons 66-48 Saturday afternoon.
With the win, UF (11-3, 7-3 GLIAC) surges into a tie with Walsh for first place in the South Division. The Oilers are tied for second in the overall league standings.
“Coach (Charlie Ernst) wasn’t happy with us when he called the timeout. He got on us pretty good and wanted us to get back to playing hard. Someone had to step up and I was able to hit a couple of shots. It got us going again.”
Heagen’s 3-pointer pushed the UF lead to 38-27 and unlike past games here in recent years where the outcome wasn’t decided until the final minute, the Oilers left no doubt about who owned the day.
Interestingly enough, it wasn’t a barrage of big shots that took the life out of the Dragons and the standing-room only crowd of 970 inside the smallest gymnasium in the GLIAC, a gym that can get loud in a hurry when things are going right for the Dragons (6-9, 2-8).
“We did it with our defense. That was the best way to take the crowd out of it,” Ernst said. “The fans get lifeless and it wears on the opponent.This is a tough place to play, but we played hard on defense and the effort paid off.”
Shots were difficult for TU to make, especially with the Oilers swarming to the ball and winning the hustle plays, and leading scorer Joe Graessle finished with only 15 points.
Graessle struggled to get good looks early as he dealt with being defended by point guard Alphonso Baity. The matchup helped set the tone as the Oilers took control early and led 33-20 at halftime.
“(Joe) is a very good shooter and he plays with a lot of confidence,” Ernst said. “Alphonso wasn’t the only one who defended him today, but I thought those first five minutes of the game were key. When he gets going, it makes life easier for his teammates. But we never let him get on a roll.”
Heagen scored 13 points and grabbed four rebounds.
After the game, he talked about the play of the Oilers on defense. UF held TU to 30.5 percent (18 of 59) shooting from the field. On one possession in the second half, the Dragons had four chances to score but couldn’t convert on the extra opportunities.
“It all starts with our defense,” Heagen said. “We put a lot of emphasis on it. We didn’t play a great game offensively today, but we know we can always play hard on defense no matter what. Teams that want to win conference championships find ways to win road games, and our defense was a big part of our success today.”
The Oilers, who scored 19 points off 17 turnovers, shot 41.8 percent (23 of 55) from the floor and Baity and Greg Kahlig were also in double figures, dropping in 12 points apiece as UF won its fourth consecutive game.
Dylan Kaufman soared into the air on a fastbreak and threw down a rim-rocking dunk that put the Oilers in front 9-3 early in the first half.
Kahlig gave the Oilers a double-digit lead at 22-12 after scoring on a layup and hitting the ensuing free throw after being fouled.
Two straight jumpers by Graessle trimmed the UF lead to 22-16, but the Oilers took the momentum back when Quaran Jones came through with a ferocious one-hand dunk that put UF in front 25-16.
Jones made several key plays off the bench. His short jumper in the lane put the Oilers in front 54-34 with 6:22 left and he battled for a rebound off his own miss and tipped the ball back in for a 58-37 advantage.
Jones scored seven points and grabbed three rebounds as he took another step forward during his redshirt freshman season.
“I wanted to play hard and do what I could to battle inside for rebounds. I also played as hard as I could on defense,” Jones said. “This is a game that will really help my confidence.”
Ernst liked what he saw from Jones.
“He works hard in practice and giving him extra minutes is a reward for him,” Ernst said. “He is a player we are going to count on more and more as we go along. He is really making strides and continues to get better.”
Although the Oilers were far from perfect, winning on the road is always a big deal, regardless of the opponent.
“Anytime you can go on the road in this conference and win, it’s big,” Ernst said. “We know how tough Tiffin is to play, especially here, and for us to win the way we did is a big deal. We still have room for improvement, but we feel good about winning another game.”
The attention of the Oilers now shifts to rival Ashland, which comes to town Thursday for an 8 p.m. game at Croy Gymnasium.
“It’s always a big game when we play Ashland,” Heagen said. “They will come in ready to play and give us their best shot. It’s important that we play our best and protect our home floor.”
FINDLAY (11-3, 7-3 GLIAC)
Heagen 4-4–13, Kahlig 4-3–12, Frilling 1-1–3, Baity 4-4–12, Kaufman 2-2–7, Gardner 0-0–0, Samsel 2-0–6, Smith 2-0–4, Staley 1-0–2, Stern-Tucker 0-0–0, Jones 3-1–7, Kohls 0-0–0. TOTALS: 23-55 15-25 — 66.
TIFFIN (6-9, 2-8 GLIAC)
Sutherlin 2-2–6, McCormick 4-2–11, Imami 1-0–2, A. Khan 2-0–4, Graessle 5-4–15, Boan 1-1–3, Toma 1-1–3, Brown 1-0–2, Pipkin 1-0–2, Wright 0-0–0, Jackson 0-0–0, S. Khan 0-0–0. TOTALS: 18-59 10-17 — 48.
3-Point GOALS: Findlay 5-18 (Samsel 2, Heagen, Kahlig & Kaufman); Tiffin 2-17 (McCormick & Graessle).
rebounds: Findlay 35 (Kahlig & Baity 6); Tiffin 47 (Graessle 10).
ASSISTS: Findlay 9 (Kahlig 4); Tiffin 9 (Graessle 5).
STEALS: Findlay 7 (Baity & Kaufman 2); Tiffin 7 (Graessle 4).
BLOCKS: Findlay 2 (Kahlig & Kaufman); Tiffin 8 (Imami 5).
TURNOVERS: Findlay 8, Tiffin 17.
TOTAL FOULS: Findlay 15, Tiffin 23.
FOULED OUT: None
HALFTIME: Findlay, 33-20.
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