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Oilers on the brink of another special postseason moment

By BRIAN LESTER

You could dream a million dreams and probably never dream up anything as special as what Greg Kahlig did on Saturday afternoon in the semifinal round of the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference tournament at Croy Gymnasium.

Kahlig was in a zone, lighting up the scoreboard for 55 points, a scoring performance that was one for the ages, as he led the Universith of Findlay men’s basketball team to a 104-74 dismantling of Walsh University in front of a near sell-out crowd.

Just when you think the senior forward can’t do anything more impressive than what he did during a crazy stretch in February when he scored 40, 42 and 39, he comes up with a performance that amazed us all.

Kahlig hit a single-game school record 10 3-pointers and his 55 points is the most in any GLIAC game, be it regular season or postseason. He’s also the first Oiler to come through with a 50-point game since all-time leading scorer Randy Kortokrax scored 54 against Thomas More in 1987.

Like I said, you can’t dream a game like this up. Not even GK could have imagined something like this happening on Saturday. It was a special moment for a special player. And because of it, the Oilers are now one win away from winning a third consecutive GLIAC tournament championship.

“You can never dream of having a game like this. It’s special and unreal,” Kahlig said. “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.”

And that is what I love about Kahlig. He doesn’t soak up the spoltight and forget about his teammates. He credits his teammates for their part in his success. He’s done it all season. Never mind that he is one of the nation’s best scorers, averaging 24.7 points per game. And never mind that he is the GLIAC Player of the Year.

Kahlig is a team player through and through. It says a lot about Kahlig as a person and as a player.

I asked junior forward Jake Heagen what it was like to watch Kahlig rise to the occasion on a big stage one more time. This is what he had to say about it.

“Greg never ceases to amaze me,” Heagen said. “I’m his shooting partner in practice, and I know what he is capable of doing. It’s special to watch.”

Indeed it is. When I started my interview with UF head coach Charlie Ernst, I told him we needed to get the obvous question out of the way. first, so I asked him about Kahlig’s effort against the Cavaliers.

“Brian, I am out of adjectives,” Ernst said. “I need to get coach Niekamp up here and ask him what he used for Kortokrax and steal those. Greg was phenomenal. It seems like the bigger the game, the better he plays.”

If you look at the stats close enough, though, you quickly realize this was a team effort by the Oilers. They tallied 20 assists and turned the ball over only three times. When you do that, you win games.

Plus, the defensive effort by UF was remarkable. It set the tone for the entire day against a WU team that came in averaging 83.3 points per game.

“We had played them twice already, so we knew what they would do and they knew what we would do,” sophomore point guard Alphonso Baity said. It came down to who would play the hardest. That was the team that would win. We played harder today.”

The Oilers were aggressive right out of the gate, never allowing the Cavaliers to get into a rhythm. UF led 62-37 at halftime and made the second half nothing more than a formality.

“Our defense set the tone, especially in the first 10 or 12 minutes,” Ernst said. “Walsh is a very good offensive team. We beat a heck of a team by 30.”

And because of that defensive effort, because of the jaw-dropping performance by Kahlig, and because of the team effort the Oilers gave in this semifinal showdown, UF is now on the doorstep of something special.

When the Oilers take on Michigan Tech today in a 2 p.m. championship game showdown, a ring will be on the line as well as an automatic bid to the NCAA Division II tournament. UF is playing in its ninth title game in the last 11 years and owns a record seven league championships.

A win on Sunday could very well put the Oilers at the No. 2 or No. 3 seed in the NCAA Midwest Regional. The Oilers realize so much is riding on the GLIAC tourney championship game. But they appear ready for the moment in front of them.

“Our ultimate goal is to win a championship,” Heagen said. “We want to accomplish it. We know what it takes to win one. Today was another step in that process and we are focused on the next one.”

Kahlig echoed those thoughts.

“It feels good to be here. It’s something we’ve worked for all year. For our team to have a chance to win another ring, that is all that matters.”

 Follow me on Twitter: @BLester1993.