By ANDY WOLF
Postseason play always brings a far different atmosphere than that of the regular season.
The University of Findlay men’s basketball team positioned itself again with a home game to begin the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference tournament.
The second-seeded Oilers (22-5, 16-5 GLIAC) host Grand Valley State University (16-12, 12-9) 7 p.m. today in the quarterfinals at Croy Gymnasium.
Ferris State (24-4, 18-3) is the No. 1 seed. The highest remaining seed after the quarterfinals will host both the semifinals and finals.
“You get desperation involved,” UF coach Charlie Ernst said of the postseason. “That always changes things in life. When you’re desperate for something, you sell out.”
“Losing games due to effort typically does not happen in the postseason, especially the further along you get.”
Findlay has not only lost its last two GLIAC openers, but lost for the first time in conference tournament play in 22 games at Croy Gymnasium.
Their hopes of making the NCAA tournament vanished when Ferris State’s Drew Cushingberry nailed the game-winner with less than a second to go.
The loss, as expected, left a bitter taste in the mouths of many.
“You try to forget about it,” junior Elijah Kahlig said. “That was a tough loss. That one hurt. You try just to learn from it, get better, come out with more energy.”
Findlay opened GLIAC regular-season play nearly three months ago against Grand Valley State. The Lakers prevailed 61-58 when Luke Ryskamp hit the game-winning 3-pointer with 2.2 seconds remaining.
Three months in basketball time is nearly an eternity and plenty has changed since then.
For starters, UF is without two players in point guard Austin Gardner and big man Alex White to knee injuries in December. But the Oilers made no excuses and are riding a seven-game winning streak.
“We are trending up. Sweeping the South (the second time), that was big momentum for us,” Kahlig said. “Being able to play our first game here in Croy is huge. I know our crowd is going to be ready for us.”
The regular season ended nearly the same way it began.
On Thursday, Martyce Kimbrough swished a contested 3-pointer as time expired to push UF past Walsh 88-85 in overtime.
Kimbrough got off a similar look at the end of the GVSU game but couldn’t connect. Since that game, the junior guard has only gotten more and more clutch.
He leads the Oilers in scoring at 20.4 points per game and the GLIAC with 106 3-pointers (UF record).
For his efforts, he and teammate Taren Sullivan earned first-team all-GLIAC honors.
Sullivan flirted with a triple double on a nightly basis and averaged 17.6 points, 7.4 rebounds, 4.6 assists, and 1.5 steals a contest.
Senior Ricardo Smith got recognized on the all-defensive team with 23 steals and 20 blocks.
Grand Valley State’s Trevin Alexander landed on the second-team and the all-defensive team.
Ernst characterized this Lakers team as “typical Grand Valley.”
“They’re big, they’re strong, they’re physical,” Ernst said. “They’re leading the league in rebounding (plus-6.4 margin).
“It’s that length. They contest shots. They’re pretty physical so they’re maybe hard to screen. They limit you to one shot a lot of times. You’ve got to make the one shot you get count.”
The Lakers also post the top marks in overall field goal percentage (39.1).
Their offensive approach is one of the most balanced in the league.
Each of their eight main rotation guys have led them in scoring in games this season.
Ryskamp leads at 13.6 points per game and Alexander at 11.1, with three others chipping in at least 8 points.
“They haven’t relied on any one guy all year,” Ernst said. “They just go with the hot hand and that was evident against us. (Justin) Greason came off the bench and led them in scoring that night against us (12 points).”
Should Findlay win, the victor of No. 3 Lake Superior State and No. 6 Ashland awaits — both having topped the Oilers in the regular season.
LSS also gave UF its only home loss (14-1), 90-85 on Dec. 10.
Ernst cited three out of four road teams winning a GLIAC tourney opener as “a testament to the quality and depth of the conference.”