By ANDY WOLF
Home sweet home.
The University of Findlay men’s basketball team is back to a familiar setting after spending most of November on the road.
The Oilers are 7-2 overall through their first nine games.
Only once have they enjoyed the confines of Croy Gymnasium.
That game, an 84-82 win over Fairmont State, was over three weeks ago.
“A lot of different hotels, a lot of out-of-routine type of things but obviously we survived,” UF coach Charlie Ernst said.
Findlay returns to Croy for a pair of Great Midwest Athletic Conference games starting with Walsh at 6 p.m. today. The Oilers then face Malone at 1 p.m. on Saturday.
Findlay and Walsh (5-1) were the only teams to go 2-0 in league play last week. Malone is 6-2 overall, 1-1 in the GMAC.
Last week, the Oilers routed two-time defending league champ Kentucky Wesleyan 94-71 before squeaking out a 61-56 victory over 1-7 Trevecca Nazarene.
Those two wins capped a stretch where UF was away from home for 10 out of 11 days.
The team benefited greatly with plenty of valuable lessons learned from the slew of road games.
“So if we’ve gained something, in addition to the obvious wins, it’s that our players have developed the mentality and to understand what you need to do to win on the road,” Ernst said. “Especially against the caliber of teams that we’ve played.”
Findlay is 3-1 in both true road games and neutral site games.
Walsh, on the other hand, has yet to play anywhere outside of North Canton this season.
A team in a bit of transition, Walsh graduated its top two scorers in the GLIAC last year and its third-leading scorer, Jameel Moore (11.0 ppg), transferred to Wisconsin-Parkside for his senior year.
As a result, three freshmen, one true, have combined for 17 starts this season.
“That’s what you do when you have a young team; you’re careful with your scheduling,” Ernst said.
The Oilers already possess a strong home-court reputation based on routinely having a quality program and a dedicated fan base. They were 15-1 at Croy a year ago and are 84-9 since Ernst took over.
“Outside of Bellarmine last year (NCAA tournament), I don’t think there’s been too many other better atmospheres that I’ve played in at a Division II level,” junior guard Trey Smith said.
Smith has also taken his game to another level.
Normally in the first group off the bench, the 5-10 point guard uses his athleticism to bring a high defensive tenacity.
Combined with the similarly-minded true freshman point guard Tommy Schmock, the Oilers have a new element and weapon unlike previous years.
It’s largely the reason why Smith (16) and Schmock (14) are respectively tied for first and third in the GMAC in steals.
“That’s one thing that our coach (Ernst) likes is because our second team plays a lot differently than our first team,” Smith said.
Smith recognized their on-court chemistry when they’d play together in open gyms over the summer.
As he was doing that, Ernst noticed Smith was expanding on his own game and building off momentum gained from a strong finish to a breakout sophomore season where he earned a reputation as a pesky defender.
Smith’s growth is harnessing that ability, according to Ernst, to defend smarter.
“I feel like my mentality was “don’t let my man score,” Smith said. “Now I feel like I’ve adopted a more help-side mentality.”
He’s also turned into a much more efficient distributor.
After turning in 28 assists to 22 turnovers last year in 494 minutes, he’s already bettered those marks with 30 assists to six turnovers in half the court time (200 minutes).
“I’ve just been put in good positions to make easy assists and take care of the ball on offense,” Smith said.
Lately, Findlay’s offense has been clicking at a tune of 82.7 points per game.
Seniors Taren Sullivan (17.7 ppg) and Martyce Kimbrough (17.1) have scored in double figures in all but one game so far. The Lima natives are tied with each other for 30th on UF’s all-time scoring list with 1,220 points each.
Meanwhile, Walsh is the highest-scoring GMAC team at 87.5 ppg.
The Cavaliers are doing it with plenty of new faces, too.
Sophomore guard Chandler Vaudrin (6-5), a starter but role player last year, posted a triple-double in the opening game and still flirts with one on a nightly basis. He averages 16.8 points, 9.7 rebounds and 7.8 assists with 16 steals.
“He’s a little bit like Taren (6-6 forward) but even more of a point guard; a tough matchup,” Ernst said.
Junior forward Sterling Christy (6-7, 11.5 ppg) is the only upperclassmen to start a game and even he is new after transferring from Division I Radford.
“When we watched their early games he was a factor,” Ernst said. “When you watch these later games he’s a big factor.”
Redshirt-freshman guard Bo Furcron (11.2 ppg) also averages in double figures but has scored 17 total points in his last three games.
The Findlay women’s team has yet to play a regular season game at Croy this season.
The Oilers (5-1, 2-0) also host Walsh (5-3, 2-0) in a GMAC game with tipoff set for 8 p.m.
Both teams routed their first two league foes and sit tied atop the GMAC standings.
Findlay rolled over Kentucky Wesleyan (73-51) and Trevecca Nazarene (60-45) while Walsh had a similarly easy time with Davis & Elkins (69-46) and Alderson Broaddus (98-63).
Hot shooting and stingy defense have been the keys for the Oilers who rank in the top 15 nationally in both field goal percentage (3rd, 50.3) and defensive field goal percentage (15th, 33.0).
Junior forward Anna Hintz leads UF in both scoring (17.0 ppg) and rebounding (8.0 rpg). Senior Haley Horstman puts in 15.5points a game and classmate Lynsey Englebrecht adds 13.5.
Englebrecht has been on a tear from 3-point range all season long at 47.9 percent (23 of 48), including 14 for 24 in her last three games.
Basketball: Oilers happy to finally be home
By ANDY WOLF