By ANDY WOLF
BIG RAPIDS, Mich. — As the second half wore on, University of Findlay men’s basketball coach Charlie Ernst saw his team’s tournament experience shine through.
The Oilers trailed by four points at halftime Saturday then outscored Drury 50-27 over the next 20 minutes.
Behind Taren Sullivan’s 26 points, Findlay posted a decisive 84-65 victory in the opening round of the Division II NCAA Tournament at top-seeded Ferris State’s Jim Wink Arena in Big Rapids, Michigan.
“Obviously, it was a tale of two halves,” Ernst said. “No. 1, our bench came in the first half and really helped spell our starters. We came out a little bit sluggish to start the game. I don’t think it was effort. I think it was anxiety.
“At the end of first half, we played some zone and I thought they struggled a little bit against it. We made some adjustments in our zone and really rode a zone the entire second half.”
Findlay (27-4), which made the Sweet 16 last year, won an NCAA tournament game in consecutive years for the first time since 2008 and 2009 — the latter their 36-0 national title season.
The Oilers advanced to meet Bellarmine (29-2), the team that eliminated them last year, at 5 p.m. today in the regional semifinals.
The Knights, ranked No. 4 nationally, dispatched Truman State 82-65 in their opener.
“Any time you can get to the NCAA tournament, you’ve had a special season,” Ernst said. “That’s not easy to do. Secondly, to come to the tournament and be successful is equally hard to do.”
Sullivan went off for 16 points in the second half and led the Oilers with six rebounds.
The 6-foot-6 senior forward had all parts of his offensive game working. He connected on 10 of 17 shots from the field including 4 of 8 from 3-point range.
“In the second half, he caught his second wind,” Ernst said. “Our whole team did, but especially he did.”
Findlay’s overall start was a stark contrast to the strong finish.
The Oilers couldn’t buy an outside shot early on, going 4 of 17 from beyond the arc, to trail 38-34 at halftime. They finished 10 of 31 from downtown.
Drury led by as many as nine points at 27-18 after Isaac Johnson’s 3-pointer at the 8:28 mark.
Alex White swung the pendulum in favor of the Oilers by opening the second half with a right-handed slam dunk.
“Alex White, his dunk to start the second half was a big play because I thought it energized our team,” Ernst said.
On the very next possession, he kicked out to Sullivan who buried the 3-pointer and gave Findlay a 39-38 lead.
White, a 6-7 junior who routinely faced double teams, finished with 13 points and five rebounds.
Yet, for a few minutes, neither team could break a 39-39 tie.
Enter UF’s guards Tommy Schmock and Trey Smith off the bench, poised to wreak havoc with their constant pressure.
By the time they exited nine minutes later, the Oilers held a commanding 69-55 lead.
First, Smith assisted Sullivan on a jumper for a 46-42 UF lead before grabbing an offensive rebound which led to another Sullivan jumper on the next possession.
Minutes later, Smith blew by everyone in the lane for a layup to put the Oilers up 57-49.
Not one minute after, Schmock did the same on a drive to push UF’s advantage into double figures at 62-51.
The two worked together for another bucket off a turnover, created by Schmock’s steal before feeding Smith in a two-on-one fast break.
Smith capped the spurt by getting fouled as the shot clock was about to expire. He’d make two free throws before heading to the bench with Schmock at the 6:10 mark.
“They’re such an important part of this team,” Ernst said of Smith and Schmock. “People that watch us play all the time realize it. Maybe people that follow us on paper focus on the starters. …
“We wouldn’t be where we’re at without those guys. Today is just another example of that. Their quickness bothers people.”
Schmock and Smith each finished with six points with Schmock notching three of UF’s 10 steals.
Findlay held a plus-14 edge in turnover margin (18-4).
Martyce Kimbrough added 13 points for UF while Elijah Kahlig had eight points.
Douglas Moore’s 14 points led Drury (21-8) and Kamau Kinder added 12 points and six assists.
Findlay has a quick turnaround for its next matchup against a Bellarmine team it has plenty of history with.
Three of the six times they’ve met have come in the NCAA tournament with the Knights holding a 2-1 edge.
This is their first meeting on a neutral site as the home team won the game and the region each time.
“That would be nice,” Ernst said. “They’re good anywhere, but let’s face it — like us, they’re really good at home. We have a lot of respect for their program; I think they have equal respect for ours. We welcome the opportunity. They bring out the best in you.”
Conley 2-7 0-0 5, Kinder 4-8 2-4 12, Ballock 0-4 4-4 4, Williams 0-1 1-2 1, Moore 7-9 0-0 14, Potts 2-3 1-2 5, Johnson 3-9 0-0 9, Billinger 1-3 2-2 5, Clanton 0-0 0-0 0, Wolfe 0-1 0-0 0, Kinghorn 4-5 1-2 10, Walker 0-0 0-0 0. TOTALS: 23-50 11-16 65.
Gardner 2-3 1-1 5, Sullivan 10-17 2-2 26, Kimbrough 5-15 0-0 13, Kahlig 3-11 0-0 8, White 5-7 3-4 13, Smith 2-4 2-2 6, Schmock 3-6 0-0 6, Wildermuth 0-1 0-0 0, Ashley 0-1 2-2 2, Overhiser 2-4 0-0 5. TOTALS: 32-69 10-11 84.
3-Point GOALS: Drury 8-23 (Garrison 1-4, Kinder 2-2, Ballock 0-4, Williams 0-1, Johnson 3-7, Billinger 1-3, Wolfe 0-1, Kinghorn 1-1); Findlay 10-31 (Sullivan 4-8, Kimbrough 3-9, Kahlig 2-7, Smith 0-2, Schmock 0-2, Ashley 0-1, Overhiser 1-2).
rebounds: Drury 31 (Ballock 9); Findlay 29 (Sullivan 6).
ASSISTS: Drury 17 (Johnson 4); Findlay 15 (Schmock 3).
STEALS: Drury 2 (Ballock & Potts); Findlay 10 (Schmock 3).
BLOCKS: Drury 1 (Moore 1); Findlay 0.
TURNOVERS: Drury 18; Findlay 4.
TOTAL FOULS: Drury 18; Findlay 13.
FOULED OUT: None.
HALFTIME: Drury 38-34.
Men’s Basketball: Oilers beat Drury in tourney opener
By ANDY WOLF