By BRIAN LESTER
Pressure frightens some players, but University of Findlay senior forward Greg Kahlig isn’t one who scares easily.
He seems to thrive when the pressure intensifies, relishing the opportunity to step up and hit big shots when it matters most.
Kahlig was at it again Saturday afternoon in a heated rivalry game against Tiffin that could have gone either way, drilling two treys down the stretch to highlight a 24-point performance and propel the Oilers to a 71-64 win over the Dragons at Croy Gymnasium.
Kahlig scored 22 points in the second half, and his two biggest treys came at the right time.
The first put the Oilers up 55-50 with a little over six minutes remaining. The second swished through with 3:48 to play, nudging the Oilers in front 62-57.
“Guys have faith in me to hit those shots, and it gives me confidence to hit them,” Kahlig said. “It’s good when they go in and it was good to get this win.”
Kahlig was hampered by foul trouble in the opening half, but he shook it off with unmatched determination in the second half to help the Oilers avoid a Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference loss that would have dealt a vicious blow to their title hopes.
UF (17-4, 13-4 GLIAC), a half game behind Walsh in the South Division and second in the overall standings, was ahead 30-29 at the half and Kahlig opened the second half with a trey.
When the Oilers trailed 40-35 a few minutes later, Kahlig hit two big shots in the lane, driving in both times before pulling up for a jumper. In both instances, he was fouled. He hit the free throw each time and UF went back in front 41-40 with 13:30 left.
“I told Greg not to get overly aggressive in the second half and let the offense come to you,” UF head coach Charlie Ernst said. “It took him 13 seconds to get his first shot up and he made it. He is such a confident player, and where that really helps is that he takes pressure off the other guys.”
Yet, it wasn’t just Kahlig that got it done as the Oilers extended their win streak to four games and emerged with a 4-1 record during a grueling stretch in the schedule where they played five games in nine days.
Jake Heagen was on point when it mattered as well, finishing with 15 points, six rebounds and two steals.
His most notable highlight was a jumper he hit with the shot clock winding down and the Oilers clinging to a 64-61 lead over the Dragons (8-13, 4-12).
Alphonso Baity drove in and rather than take a shot, he turned and kicked the ball out to Heagen up top. The ball swished through with 1:08 remaining and the Oilers went back up by five as the crowd of 1,123 roared.
“That was a good possession, maybe one of the best of the game,” Ernst said. “We need to do more of that where we come under control at the end of penetration, pivot and find the open shooter.”
Defense defined the Oilers as well in the final pressure-packed minutes of this game against a TU team that played with all it had for 40 minutes.
UF limited TU to two field goals in the final 4:33, and a turnover on a pass inside by Joe Graessle proved costly to the Dragons, who trailed by five at the time.
“It was another good job by us defensively at the end of a game,” Kahlig said. “We were able to get some stops and rebounds and put the game away. But give Tiffin credit. They came out and played hard. They played a heck of a game.”
The Dragons stunned the Oilers a year ago at Croy, earning a 57-55 win that cost UF homecourt in the conference tournament.
At times, it looked as if history might repeat itself. The Dragons shot 48.2 percent (27-of-56) from the field and Ashton Kahn led the way with 22 points.
Kelvin Toma scored 15 points and Khaleal McCormick finished with 11.
One of the keys to success for UF was that it was able to limit leading scorer Joe Graessle to seven points. The senior came in averaging 21.5 points per game.
“Tiffin is a good team and has talented players,” Ernst said. “Not only did they play hard, they played well. They were content to slow down and make us guard them. We didn’t handle it well until it mattered.”
UF also took advantage of strong play from its bench, especially in a tight first half.
Austin Gardner and Sean Samsel drilled back-to-back treys for a 17-11 lead and Tyler Stern-Tucker provided a lift off the bench as well as he scored six points during a four-minute stretch.
Stern-Tucker scored on a layup and then hit two jumpers to put the Oilers in front 24-20 with 5:48 left.
“Tyler runs the scout team most of the time in practice, but he always works on getting better and playing harder,” Ernst said. “I did not hesitate to put him in when we had foul trouble. “He took what the defense gave him. I’m proud of him and I’m proud of our bench.”
The Oilers shot only 39.3 percent (22-of-56) from the field but they survived in a game that featured four ties and 10 lead changes. They now take their act on the road when they battle rival Ashland at 7:30 pm. Thursday at Kates Gymnasium.
Kahlig, who is now 10th all-time in scoring with 1,609 points, knows the Oilers have to be ready to be at their best again to knock off the Eagles (6-11, 9-12).
“We have to be ready because it’s always tough playing at Ashland,” Kahlig said. “We have to come out with a lot of intensity because we know they will do the same.”
tiffin (8-13, 4-12 gliac)
McCormick 4-10 2-2 11, Boan 3-6 1-3 7, Khan 10-12 1-2 22, Graessle 3-12 0-0 7, Toma 6-12 0-1 15, Imami 1-3 0-0 2, Sutherlin 0-1 0-0 0, Bouley 0-0 0-0 0, Pipkin 0-0 0-0 0, Jackson 0-0 0-0 0. TOTALS: 27-56 4-8–64.
findlay (17-4, 13-4 gliac)
Heagen 5-15 4-4 15, Kahlig 7-12 7-8 24, Frilling 0-2 4-4 4, Baity 1-6 3-4 5, Kaufman 2-9 0-0 6, Gardner 1-1 1-2 4, Samsel 1-1 0-0 3, Smith 1-2 0-0 2, Staley 1-1 0-0 2, Stern-Tucker 3-4 0-0 6, Jones 0-3 0-0 0. TOTALS: 22-56 19-22–71.
HALFTIME: Findlay, 30-29.
3-Point GOALS: Tiffin 6-17 (Toma 3-5, Khan 1-2, McCormick 1-3, Graessle 1-7); Findlay 8-19 (Kahlig 3-5, Kaufman 2-5, Gardner 1-1, Samsel 1-1, Heagen 1-4, Smith 0-1, Baity 0-2).
rebounds: Tiffin 32 (Boan 7); Findlay 36 (Frilling & Kaufman 7).
ASSISTS: Tiffin 9 (Boan 3); Findlay 14 (Baity 5).
STEALS: Tiffin 6, Findlay 7.
BLOCKS: Tiffin 4, Findlay 6.
TURNOVERS: Tiffin 15, Findlay 12.
TOTAL FOULS: Tiffin 20, Findlay 12.
FOULED OUT: Sutherlin, Tiffin.
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