By ANDY WOLF
The University of Findlay men’s basketball team faces the stretch run of the regular season with only six games to go.
The Oilers are in a good position going forward but that can change with the final slate being the second trek through the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference’s South Division.
Findlay (16-5, 10-4 GLIAC) went 4-2 against the South the first time through and holds a one game lead over Ashland in the division race.
Familiarity is at its highest. Any contest, home or away, can become a stumbling block for a squad seeking postseason success such as the Oilers.
“That’s the beauty of being in a conference; they know you, we know them,” senior point guard Ricardo Smith said. “It’s about playing tough-nosed basketball. They know what we’re going to bring. It’s about being mentally tougher and physically tougher down the stretch.”
The Oilers shift their focus to Hillsdale College this week for a 7:30 p.m. meeting at Croy Gymnasium.
The Chargers (10-10, 6-8) gave Findlay a rude awakening three weeks ago with an 80-65 victory in which they led by double figures the entire second half.
Hillsdale’s Nate Neveau, a 5-foot-10 guard, provided a spark of 23 points and 12 rebounds
Smith saw the loss as a prime example of what happens when a team comes out and “plays soft defense”.
“We need that energy on the road,” Smith said. “We have it at home because of our fans. We just need to create that spark on the road.”
Smith has equally had to create a different kind of offensive spark since taking over the starting point guard duties.
Previous starter Austin Gardner went down in the second GLIAC game of the year, moving Smith from the 3-spot to point.
“It was just about getting back into the flow of things,” Smith, who started 19 games at point his sophomore year, said. “The different mindset is that I’m the point guard so I have to control the offense, make sure we get good looks, make sure I’m running the offense well and make sure everybody is in the right spot.”
UF coach Charlie Ernst comfortably made the move having already given Smith minutes at point in practice the week before Gardner went down.
Ernst was looking for a better option at backup point and wanted a way to increase the minutes of then bench and now starting wing player Elijah Kahlig.
“I tell the guys all the time don’t get caught up in what position you play,” Ernst said. “If you play so well that I have to play you, then it becomes my problem and I have to figure out a way to get you the minutes.”
In addition to providing an efficient 5.6 points per game, Smith is second to Taren Sullivan (86) on the team with 51 assists.
“I think I’m pretty comfortable at it now,” Smith said. “Down the stretch I have to do a better job taking care of the ball.”
The Oilers will have to remain patient offensively against a well-coached and disciplined Chargers squad.
A poor offensive rhythm by forcing shots early in the clock doomed them into a 34-22 hole by halftime.
Meanwhile Hillsdale often worked the entire shot clock with a passing and motion offense that Ernst saw force his players to expend most of their energy on defense.
“The biggest thing for our team right now is rest,” Ernst said. “After the rest we’ve got a lot of thing we can get better at. This is like the dog days of basketball. This is when it gets tough.
“It’s been a four-month grind of practice, some banging, coaches getting mad at you, teammates mad at you, fans mad at you.”
Findlay’s women’s basketball team (10-12, 4-10) also hosts Hillsdale (12-9, 6-8) 5:30 p.m. today.
A win puts UF right closer to the bubble of the conference tournament race.
They sit 11th in the overall league standings with Walsh (6-8) and Lake Erie (5-11) also to jump as the top eight qualify for the postseason.
The top three South Division teams receive automatic bids.
The Oilers let the first contest get away from them in fourth quarter with the Chargers outscoring them 26-9 to win 73-56.
Hillsdale’s Maddy Reed led all players with 16 points and was one of four HC starters in double figures.
Haley Horstman and Anna Hintz poured in 13 and 12 points, respectively, for UF.
The Chargers thrive on a league-high 14.1 offensive rebounds per game with Allie Dittmer (3.7) topping the GLIAC.
Hillsdale is also first in perimeter defense (26.2 percent) while the Oilers are last (38.9).
Findlay is 8-3 at Croy this year.
Basketball: UF hitting second South Division stretch
By ANDY WOLF