By BRIAN LESTER
NORTH CANTON —- I looked up at the scoreboard with a few minutes left in the University of Findlay’s game against Walsh Thursday night and noticed Greg Kahlig had already scored 31 points.
Another 40-point game?
No way was it going to happen.That would just be crazy, especially as the Oilers battled for survival in a crucial Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference showdown against the Cavaliers at Alumni Arena.
Guess the thought wasn’t so crazy after all.
Eleven points later, Kahlig had torched WU for 42 points, the final two on a clutch game-winning jumper in a thrilling 82-81 win. It was the second consecutive game of 40-plus points for the senior preseason All-American forward, and for the second time, he did it on the road.
“You never dream of doing it. You can’t ask for something like that,” Kahlig said. “It just happens. It’s a special moment. I’m just really glad for the team.”
The thing about Thursday’s performance was that the Oilers were not only fighting for possession of first place in the South Division , but they were fighting for positioning in the NCAA Division II tournament. UF came in ranked eighth in the Midwest Region. The Cavaliers were ffifth.
Yet, the pressure didn’t faze Kahlig. He embraced it and finished the game with a flurry of big-time baskets.
Momentum was on the side of the Cavaliers at the time. The crowd was energized and the Oilers trailed 76-69. Hope was fading fast.
First came a 3-pointer. It was followed up by a layup and a free throw. Another 3-pointer from well beyond the arc with a defender on him sliced the WU lead to 81-80 with 25.8 seconds to go.
Finally, the dagger shot. A short jumper that put the Oilers in front by a point with 2.9 seconds to play.
Kahlig felt the need to redeem himself after a scoring only eight points in an 81-61 loss to WU three weeks ago. His mission was accomplished.
“The guy is unreal,” Ernst said. “That loss has been eating at him. He’s been waiting for this opportunity. Greg is just unbelievable. I’ve said everything I can say about Greg.”
As impressive and jaw-dropping as the effort was by Kahlig, who now owns two of the nine 40-point games in UF history, what also impresses me is that he is always so quick to credit his teammates.
And the credit is well-deserved. His teammates put Kahlig in a position to thrive and he does what he can to take advantage of those opportunities.
“I thank the guys for finding me open,” Kahlig said. “My teammates have confidence in me to give me the ball, and that gives me confidence to hit those shots.”
Kahlig has no doubt established himself as the go-to guy for the Oilers, and if he isn’t named the GLIAC Player of the Year and Midwest Region Player of the Year, something isn’t right in the minds of the voters,
But the Oilers are hitting their stride at the right time, and their success, which includes six consecutive road wins, is all about the effort the team has put forth.
UF is winning games as a team, especially when it comes to stepping up on defense when it matters most, and their will to win is undeniable.
It didn’t matter that UF trailed 58-50 or 70-61. The Oilers never stopped fighting and found a way to win a big game on the road.
“Walsh has so many weapons, and we threw everything but the kitchen sink at them,” Ernst said. “Give Walsh a lot of credit. They played great. We beat a heck of a team. I am very proud of my team. We never gave up. We played until the buzzer.”
If the Oilers keep doing that, and Kahlig continues to rise to the occasion, anything is possible in March.
“We never quit. We knew there was still time left and we still had a chance,” Kahlig said. “We kept going, we kept fighting and we capitalized down the stretch. That is what it’s all about.”
Follow me on Twitter @BLester1993.