By BRIAN LESTER
Just when you think Greg Kahlig is all out of dazzling performances, when you think the senior University of Findlay forward can’t do anything more to turn heads, drop jaws and simply amaze, he finds a way to do it again.
Kahlig was in a zone Saturday afternoon in a semifinal showdown against Walsh University in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference tournament.
He scored 55 points, a GLIAC record, and knocked down 10 3-pointers, a school record for most treys in a game, as he led the Oilers to a 104-74 win over the Cavaliers in front of a near sell-out crowd at Croy Gymnasium.
UF (23-5) is headed to the championship game for the third straight year and for the ninth time in 11 seasons. The two-time defending champions will battle Michigan Tech (22-6) at 2 p.m. today, with the winner earning an automatic bid to the NCAA Division II tournament.
As for Kahlig, well, he was once again modest in the wake of an impressive performance. It’s his third game of 40 or more this year and the first 50-point game by an Oiler since Randy Kortokrax scored 54 against Thomas More (Ky.) in 1987.
“You can never dream of having a game like this. It’s special and unreal,” said Kahlig, who ranks sixth all-time in points (1,833). “But it’s a testament to my teammates for putting me in a position to score. They did a great job. We played well as a team.”
Kahlig was 19-of-28 from the field overall and 10-of-17 from beyond the arc on a day when the Oilers shot a blistering 58.5 percent (38-of-65) from the floor.
It didn’t take long for Kahlig to get rolling. His first 3-pointer less than two minutes into the game put the Oilers in front for good at 5-3. He would hit seven more treys in the half and the Cavaliers (22-6) had no answer for the sharp-shooting star.
“The shots went in early and it started feeling good,” Kahlig said. “You kind of just get going from there.”
By halftime, Kahlig had lit up the scoreboard for 36 points, the Oilers led 62-37, and the only thing left to be decided was the final score.
UF head coach Charlie Ernst is running out of things to say when it comes to Kahlig, the GLIAC Player of the Year and one of the nation’s most lethal scoring threats (24.7 points per game).
The third-year coach of the Oilers joked that he might have to start asking former UF head coach Ron Niekamp what he used to say about Kortokrax.
“I am out of adjectives,” Ernst said. “I need to get coach Niekamp up here and ask him what adjectives he used for Kortokrax and steal those. Greg was phenomenal. It seems like the bigger the game, the better he plays.”
Most of the time, WU had a defender glued to Kahlig, and yet, he still found ways to get his shots off.
On one play in the first half, Kahlig came up with a steal near mid-court and went in for a layup. He was fouled and hit the free throw as the Oilers pushed their lead to 34-9 with 11:08 left.
Early in the second half, Kahlig stepped back on a defender and launched up a trey that swished through for a 69-42 lead. Moments later, he set the record for treys in a game, hitting his 10th to give UF a 75-45 lead.
The crowd roared as the shot went in and Kahlig headed back down the floor with an extra bounce in his step.
He reached the 50-point mark with 5:18 to go as he dribbled through the defense in the lane and scored on a layup. He was fouled and his free throw gave him 51 while the Oilers had a 94-67 lead.
“Greg never ceases to amaze me,” junior forward Jake Heagen said. “I’m his shooting partner in practice, and I know what he is capable of doing. It’s special to watch.”
Yet, for as much as Kahlig stole the spotlight, lost in the mix is the fact that the Oilers played tremendous team basketball.
UF tallied 20 assists, including six by sophomore guard Dylan Kaufman, and only turned the ball over three times, an impressive stat when you consider the added pressure WU applied in the second half as it tried desperately to battle back.
“We beat a heck of a team by 30 points,” Ernst said. “To have 20 assists and three turnovers is unheard of in college basketball. That is a team effort. We valued the basketball and we played great defense.”
The Cavaliers shot 44.2 percent (23-of-52) from the field and junior forward Jeff Copeland and senior forward Hrvoje Vucic scored 14 points apiece.
UF made it tough for WU to get into a rhythm, forcing the Cavaliers to take tough outside shots and making difficult for them to get inside as they played solid, straight-up defense in the paint.
Heagen, who scored 5 points and grabbed 7 rebounds, said the Oilers were ready to dig in on defense.
“That is what it takes because Walsh is a great offensive team,” Heagen said. “We had to amp it up on defense to get the job done. We went out and executed our game plan.”
Kaufman also scored in double figures for the Oilers as he finished with 15 points. He punctuated his performance with a dunk in the first half where he sliced down the lane and rose up for a two-hand jam as UF went in front 41-23.
Sophomore point guard Alphonso Baity hit all four of his shots from the floor, including jumpers to start both halves, and he grabbed four rebounds and dished out four assists. He did not turn the ball over.
UF now shifts its attention to winning its third consecutive championship and eighth overall.
The Oilers own the record for most titles in GLIAC tourney history, but this title game, unlike the last two, will be played at home.
And it will be played against rival Tech, which beat Malone 75-62 in the other semifinal. The Huskies have five titles and are in their first title game since 2005.
Both the players and Ernst talked about the thrill of being able to play this tourney at home. And as the Oilers stand on the doorstep of something special, Kahlig reflected on the opportunity in front of them.
“It feels good to be here. It’s something we’ve worked for all year,” Kahlig said. “For our team to have a chance to win another ring, that is all that matters.”