By BRIAN LESTER
All Ashland could do Thursday night against the University of Findlay men’s basketball team was pray. Pray that the ball found the bottom of the net rather than the rim, air or the palm of one of the UF players as the Oilers blocked seven shots.
The Eagles were constantly being swarmed, constantly finding it difficult to get good shots off, and for the Oilers, it was a huge step forward in terms of their growth on the defensive end of the floor as they rolled to an 85-48 win over their bitter rival at Croy Gymnasium.
The numbers are impressive. UF held AU to 30.8 percent shooting from the field, it scored 26 points off 15 turnovers, it racked up seven blocks. And in the second half, it held the Eagles to a mere 18 points.
Think about that for a moment. A college basketball team scored 18 points in a half. That is remarkable.
“Usually, we’ve been playing defense like that in the first half, but tonight we did it in the second half, which is even better,” UF head coach Charlie Ernst said. “If you hold an opponent at the college level, at the Division II level, to less than 20 points in a half, your players are getting it done on the defensive end,” Ernst said.
The Oilers more than got it done as they stormed to their fifth consecutive win. The win over the Eagles marked the second straight game where UF has held a team to 48 points.The Oilers scored 48 points alone in the second half on Thursday.
UF has gotten back to what it has always had prided itself on, and that is getting after it on defense. Defense is the trademark of UF basketball, and we were all reminded of that on Thursday night. Oh, but the offense wasn’t bad either. The Oilers shot 58.3 percent from the field and Greg Kahlig went off for 34 points, drilling nine 3-pointers along the way.
“Obviously, we are capable of making shots, but everything for us, is about defense,” Ernst said. “If we want to win the conference, we have to get it done on the defensive end.”
The Oilers have embraced that challenge.Four of the Oilers’ last five opponents have scored less than 70.
“We got after it in the second half,” senior center Mark Frilling said. That is how we need to play defense all of the time.”
Kahlig, the senior preseason All-American forward for the Oilers, echoed those thoughts.
“We’re playing good defense right now, and it something we have to continue,” Kahlig said. “When we play that way, we’re tough to beat, home or on the road. We’ve worked hard at it.”
The Oilers have another stern challenge ahead Saturday. They take on a Lake Erie team that will come to town with absolutely nothing to lose. The Storm has been competitive all year and they are much better than their 8-9 record indicates.
“We had a good win (Thursday), but it’s time to turn the page,” Kahlig said. “Lake Erie plays hard and they will give us their best shot. We have to be ready.”
Which is why defense is so important. It’s the key to success for the Oilers, who are starting to look like a team on a mission with the way they have played on D.
“Guys are contesting passing, contesting shots, helping out, and that is a credit to the hard work they have put in on defense,” Ernst said. “It’s a mentality now and having the guts and the passion to say, you aren’t going to score. We’ve done a good job of developing that mentality and we need to continue to get better.”
Follow me on Twitter @BLester1993.