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Monday, March 11, 2013College basketball: Oilers win GLIAC tournament title
HOUGHTON, Mich. -- Aaron Robinson clutched the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference tournament championship trophy, a trophy that, at times this season, didn't seem like it would end up in possession of the University of Findlay men's basketball team.
This was a team that lost five games by eight points or fewer, falling out of the national poll after starting the year ranked No. 8, but on Sunday afternoon inside the SDC Gymnasium, the third-seeded Oilers showed that the adversity over the course of a long season only made them stronger.
It's why they were the last team standing, champions of the GLIAC tournament for a league-record seventh time after a 75-69 win over eighth-seeded Lake Superior State University.
It marks the second consecutive year the Oilers have won the title on the road, something that has never been done, and Robinson, a senior guard, tried to put the accomplishment into words.
"It feels good to be champions. It feels even better to win on the road two years in a row," Robinson said. "To beat the host team, Michigan Tech, and then win the championship the next day is great."
Senior forward Brad Piehl echoed those thoughts.
Denied All-GLIAC honors on Friday at the conference awards banquet, he ended up as the MVP of the tournament after scoring 14 points and grabbing eight rebounds against the Lakers as the Oilers earned an automatic bid to next week's NCAA Division II tournament at Drury University in Springfield, Mo.
The Oilers received the No. 8 seed in the Midwest Region and will play No. 1 Drury (25-4) on Saturday. The tipoff time will be determined today.
One of Piehl's biggest plays was the foul he drew as he scored on a layup with a little more than six minutes to play. The free throw went down as well and the Oilers (22-7) had a 58-43 advantage.
The Lakers (16-13) never quit fighting, but the deficit was too much to overcome in the end as their Cinderella run through the tournament came to an end.
"The biggest thing right now is that we punched our ticket to the NCAA tournament," Piehl said with a piece of the net in his hand and a championship medal around his neck. "It's a great feeling to win the conference tournament. It really shows what our team is capable of doing when we play well."
Head coach Charlie Ernst has been around the Findlay program for a long time. He played four years for the Oilers and spent 20 years as an assistant coach under Ron Niekamp. This is his second season as the head coach, and once again in the postseason, he found a way to get his team to rise to the occasion.
"To win it once on the road is an incredible accomplishment," Ernst said. "To do it back-to-back years, especially on the road 12 hours from home, tells you a lot about our players. I'm almost speechless. It's such a great feeling."
For one half, the Oilers didn't play their best basketball. They trailed 31-29 at halftime, beaten in the battle for rebounds time and again as Lake Superior held a 22-8 edge on the boards in the first half and scored eight second-chance points.
The Lakers finished with a 40-29 rebounding advantage, but the Oilers turned the momentum in their favor in the second half on the strength of an aggressive defense and big-time shots from several players.
Freshman forward Dylan Kaufman hit a jumper that gave the Oilers a 48-36 lead and followed with another jumper in the lane that put Findlay in front 50-36. Kaufman had hit a trey and jumper in the first half that kept Findlay within striking distance.
Kaufman, who won two state championships at Berlin Hiland and was a two-time Associated Press Division IV Player of the Year in high school, finished with 12 points and played hard on defense as he joined teammates Piehl and Greg Kahlig on the all-tournament team.
"Once I got going, it felt like old times again," Kaufman said. "When my shots started to fall, it motivated me on defense. My experience (in high school) helped a little, but not as much as I thought. College is a different game."
Ernst said Kaufman talked to him after Saturday's semifinal win over Michigan Tech because he didn't play as well as he would have liked, missing all four of his shots from the field and going scoreless.
"I told him he would get another chance today and to take advantage of it," Ernst said. "He did. He put on a bit of a show. Not only was he scoring, he was blocking shots, getting steals and causing havoc."
Findlay forced the Lakers to shoot just 38.3 percent (23 of 60) from the field and held off a furious late rally in the second half fueled by Derek Kinney (18 points and 10 rebounds). Derek Billing and Rashaun Carroll scored 12 points apiece.
The Lakers got as close as 69-64 after a free throw by Alex Williams with less than a minute to go, energizing the small section of students sitting in the bleachers behind the basket, but the Oilers hit six free throws down the stretch and to put the finishing touches on the win.
Greg Kahlig finished with 12 points, giving the Oilers three players in double figures, and Findlay shot 45.1 percent (23 of 51) from the field.
One of the differences in the game was the mental adjustment Findlay made before the second half. After being the underdog against second-seeded Michigan Tech on Saturday, the Oilers were the favorite on Sunday.
"It was a different feeling, and I don't think we handled it extremely well in the first half," Ernst said. "We didn't make many chalkboard adjustments at halftime. We told the players we had to play with more energy and excitement. Our attitude adjustment was the difference."
For the Oilers, their attitude at the moment is that they are only beginning to play their best basketball. They have won four consecutive games and 10 of their past 11.
Findlay was on the outside looking in for an NCAA bid going into the conference tournament, but the Oilers embraced that challenge and ignored the pressure as they head into the NCAA Midwest Regional with a wave of momentum.
"It gives us a lot of confidence winning up here, and for us to win a championship up here shows how good our team really is when we play at a high level," Robinson said. "We came together as a family and we worked together to get it done. Now we get to play in the NCAA tournament. It feels good."
LAKE SUPERIOR STATE (16-13)
Metz 3-9 1-2 7, Kinney 6-13 5-6 18, Williams 3-11 2-5 9, Harris 1-3 0-0 2, Billing 4-16 2-2 12, Wells 1-1 0-0 2, Carroll 2-3 6-10 12, Daly 1-2 1-2 3, Jobe 0-0 0-0 0, Holt 2-2 0-0 4. TOTALS: 23-60 17-27--69.
Heagen 4-6 0-0 9, Kahlig 4-8 3-4 12, Piehl 3-8 8-9 14, Baity 0-1 3-4 3, Robinson 3-6 0-0 8, Samsel 2-4 3-4 8, Brown 0-0 0-0 0, Smith 2-6 4-4 9, Kaufman 5-10 1-1 12, Frilling 0-2 0-0 0. TOTALS: 23-51 22-26--75.
3-Point GOALS: Lake Superior 6-23 (Kinney 1-1, Williams 1-6, Billing 2-13, Carroll 2-3, Daly 1-2, Holt 2-2); Findlay 7-18 (Heagen 1-1, Kahlig 1-2, Baity 0-1, Robinson 2-4, Samsel 1-2, Smith 1-4, Kaufman 1-4).
rebounds: Lake Superior 40 (Kinney 10, Daly 6); Findlay 29 (Piehl 8, Kahlig 4).
ASSISTS: Lake Superior 12 (Williams 4, Harris 4); Findlay 11 (Robinson 2, Samsel 2, Frilling 2). STEALS: Lake Superior 6 (Williams 2); Findlay 9 (Roberts 2, Samsel 2). BLOCKS: Lake Superior 3 (Holt 2); Findlay 6 (Piehl 2, Frilling 2). TURNOVERS: Lake Superior 17, Findlay 13. TOTAL FOULS: Lake Superior 20, Findlay 19. FOULED OUT: none.
HALFTIME: Lake Superior, 31-29.
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