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Men’s Basketball: Oilers ready for tourney play

By ANDY WOLF
STAFF WRITER
University of Findlay men’s basketball coach Charlie Ernst watched the NCAA Division II men’s basketball tournament selection show from the comfort of his home late Sunday night.
One spot remained in the Midwest region and the Oilers had not yet appeared on the bracket.
“I’m thinking if we’re not on the board next, there’s been a serious injustice made,” Ernst said.
As he confidently anticipated, Findlay’s name finally showed up.
The No. 25-ranked and sixth-seeded Oilers (23-6) will take on three-seed Southern Indiana (25-4) at noon today in the Midwest Regional at top-seeded Bellarmine University in Louisville, Ky.
“It never gets old seeing your name go up on the board and getting correspondence from the NCAA less than a few minutes after,” Ernst said.
Senior Tyler Stern-Tucker also figured the Oilers were in.
“It was kind of exasperation,” Stern-Tucker said. “Like, please put Findlay on. When it came up we were happy. We all got excited, started talking about how well we’ve played this year.”
When it comes to tournament experience, the Oilers have all of 21 minutes.
Stern-Tucker played in UF’s last NCAA tournament game as a freshman, scoring two points in nine minutes.
In that game, the Oilers fell 88-83 in overtime to Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference foe Lake Superior State.
“Imagine the GLIAC championship game, kind of on a whole new level,” Stern-Tucker said of the atmosphere. “Every guy is giving everything they have. When I got in, I couldn’t breathe from the excitement and giving all I have.”
Redshirt junior and point guard Austin Gardner also played 12 minutes that day, but has been sidelined with a knee injury since the sixth game of this season.
Five games later, the Oilers lost another starter in 6-foot-7 Alex White to a torn ACL.
Findlay, for the most part, kept right on rolling.
“Some teams it takes long enough that you lose key games along the way that end up costing you late,” Ernst said. “But in our case we kept rolling, kept our stride. We didn’t go through any stretch where we lost multiple games in a row.”
After the turn of the new year, UF went 8-0 in games decided by 10 points or less and were 13-2 overall in such games.
They’ve won games of all shapes and forms: from 12 points down with three minutes left at Ohio Dominican (72-69) and up 50-35 at halftime to hold on 88-86 against Walsh.
“It taught us how to win,” Stern-Tucker said. “(It taught us) how to finish and close a game, and the right way which is on top. In the tournament you’ve got to give it your all. It’s just do or die.”
Ernst is taking a “do or die approach” as opposed to normally saving energy for the length of the season.
The Oilers have a tall task at hand in the Screaming Eagles — not just because of their collective height.
Stopping SIU means limiting the damage of Jaril Taylor, a huge cog in the nation’s 11th-best scoring offense at 88.9 points per game.
Taylor is a 6-foot-4 senior guard and the Great Lakes Valley Conference Player of the Year. He pours in 20.2 points, grabs 8.4 rebounds and hands out 3.4 assists per game with 44 steals.
Ernst describes him as a “three-level player” with the ability to score on threes, jumpers and at the free-throw line. Those types of players are rare within the GLIAC.
“We’re going to focus a lot of attention on that,” Ernst said. “Other teams have done that and have not been successful.”
Over the course of the regular season, Taylor scored a USI-record 50 points on 9 of 9 from 3-point range and 15 of 20 at the foul line and also had a triple double on a different night.
He’s made a team-high 86 threes on the year.
Sophomore guard Alex Stein (6-3) chips in 17.6 points and shoots 48 percent from the floor.
Like Findlay, USI doesn’t hesitate to shoot the 3-ball.
The Oilers have made a school-record 288 triples thus far.
Both teams take 63 shots per game, including an average of 24 3-pointers.
Their shooters surround 6-foot-9 Finnish center Julius Rajala.
“They’re going to want to play big and we’re going to play like we usually do,” Ernst said. “Whichever team can establish that lineup that works for them is probably going to have an advantage.”
Ernst said the defensive matchups won’t matter if his players aren’t tuned in with playing off the ball and communicating.
He’s equally rehashing some offensive fundamentals such as pace, screening and execution.
Part of the refocus is related to Findlay’s last game, a 100-69 drubbing by Ashland in the GLIAC semifinals.
“Ashland shot the heck out of the ball,” Stern-Tucker said as the Eagles made a GLIAC tournament record 21 3-pointers. “They shot the heck out of the ball because we weren’t defending.
“When we get back to doing what we do best, which is defend, rebound and go run and then go play offense, we’ll be alright. That put us in a reality check to know we can’t go into a game and think we’re going to win.”
Junior forward Taren Sullivan (17.7 ppg) is seven points shy of becoming the 46th member of UF’s 1,000-point club.
Fellow junior Martyce Kimbrough (19.8 ppg) reached that plateau earlier in the season and has 1,023 for his career.
Wolf: 419-427-8496,
andywolf@thecourier.com