By BRIAN LESTER
Life on the road can be a grind. But the University of Findlay men’s basketball team has embraced the challenge of playing away from the friendly confines of Croy Gymnasium, and the numbers prove as much.
The No. 23 Oilers are 9-3 on the road this season, a record that includes a six-game win streak, and senior point guard Sean Samsel said success comes down to having confidence.
“We’ve developed a mantra of being a team that can go on the road and win,” Samsel said. “We’ve instilled that attitude in the younger guys. There isn’t anything to be afraid of about playing on the road. You just have to tune out the crowd and play your game. It’s worked out for us.”
Another road test awaits the Oilers tonight as they battle Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference South Division rival Hillsdale College in an 8 p.m. game at Jesse Philips Arena.
An outright GLIAC South Division championship will be on the line for the Oilers (21-4, 17-4), as will the potential to clinch the top seed in the GLIAC tournament if conference leader Lake Superior State falls to Wayne State tonight in Detroit.
UF also has a chance to perhaps rise even higher in the NCAA Division II Midwest Regional rankings. The Oilers jumped from eighth to fourth this week.
“This is what we worked for all summer and all season,” Samsel said. “We’re in a good position. We are on the brink of winning the division. Everybody is juiced up and ready.”
The Chargers (17-8, 13-8) come in riding the high of an 86-73 win over Walsh, which was No. 22 in the country at the time. UF and HC have a great deal of respect for each other, and while this is another big game, it’s not being over-hyped.
“We’ve been talking about big games for about a month, and our guys have responded,” UF head coach Charlie Ernst said. “I haven’t had to build this up any bigger than what it is. Our guys have had a great approach to practice, showing a lot of enthusiasm and energy.”
Senior forward Tim Dezelski has paced the Chargers, averaging 23.4 points per outing. Sophomore forward Kyle Cooper is clicking for 13.7 points per game and senior guard Brandon Pritzl is averaging 10.2 points per outing.
All three players are dangerous outside shooters. Dezelski has knocked down 42 3-pointers and Pritzl has hit 41. Cooper has drilled 19 treys and the Chargers are shooting 39.7 percent from beyond the arc as a team.
HC is averaging 73.6 ppg and shooting 48.9 percent from the field. The Chargers are giving up 66 points per outing.
There are no secrets between the Oilers and Chargers. They are as familiar with each other as any two teams in the league because of the history of their rivalry.
Ernst said being successful tonight hinges on his team being able to take advantage of its depth.
“Because they run their motion offense so well, you have to have a lot of trust in your players,” Ernst said. “You can’t defend these guys well with five or six players. You need to play nine or 10 and spread the minutes out to keep guys fresh.”
The Oilers are averaging 81.8 points and allowing 68.3. They have shot 50 percent or better 13 times and senior forward
Greg Kahlig is paving the way with his scoring average of 24.8. Kahlig has scored 121 points in his last three games, including 40 or more twice, and has been named the GLIAC South Division Player of the Week three consecutive weeks.
Junior forward Jake Heagen (13.1), sophomore guard Dylan Kaufman (10.8) and sophomore point guard Alphonso Baity (10.2) are all scoring in double figures as well for the Oilers, who have won eight consecutive games overall.
Samsel said the Oilers need to be tough mentally tonight to survive this test with the Chargers.
“It’s definitely more mental on the road,” Samsel said. “At home, you have your own crowd behind you and you are in your own element. On the road, it’s about staying focused and staying in tune to what you are doing.”
After tonight, the Oilers won’t play again until Wednesday when they host a first-round GLIAC tournament game.
For some teams, the late-season push to the tourney can take its toll. That isn’t the case with UF.
“While some teams know they are in the tournament, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are playing their best basketball,” Ernst said. “We, on the other hand, have that energy where our guys are chomping at the bit for more. We are in a good frame of mind at this time of the year.”
UF women close season
The UF women’s basketball team will play its final game of the year tonight when it battles HC in a 6 p.m. game at Jesse Philips Arena.
The Oilers (11-14, 8-13) have lost two consecutive games and are out of the GLIAC tournament picture a year after finishing as the tourney runner-up.
They will take an HC team that is looking for its fourth win in its last six games. The Chargers (12-13, 11-10) are led by junior forward Megan Vogt, who is averaging 19.8 ppg. Senior guard Marissa DeMott is averaging 12.5 ppg.
The Oilers are led by sophomore forward Margaret Wuebker, who is clicking for 12.8 ppg. Junior guard Ciara Geiger is averaging 10.2 ppg. The Oilers are averaging 70.6 points per outing and allowing 70.