By: Kevin Schrock
UF basketball fights through the season
It’s the one thing that can break even the best teams in the nation. Injuries. The University of Findlay men’s basketball team has now had not one, but two starters go down with knee injuries that will have them sidelined for the extent of the season. However, the Oilers have done anything but break. They have continued to rack up wins and currently find themselves at the top of the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference south division. The road only gets tougher from here but the squad is poised to make their run.
Junior point guard Austin Gardner was poised for a career year of his own. He led the team in assists through seven games before disaster struck the Bowling Green native. While the Oilers were in the middle of an intense overtime period with Ferris State early in the year he drew a foul but went down. It was a knee injury and he would again be forced to miss extended time. The Oilers didn’t miss a beat.
“We had started to make an adjustment the week of that Ferris State game because Ricardo (Smith) was playing well and so was Elijah (Kahlig),” said Findlay coach Charlie Ernst. “Since we wanted to get both of them more minutes we started to work Ricardo in as a backup point guard because he played there as a sophomore. It just so happened that God forbid Austin got hurt in that game.”
At that point the Oilers made the transition to making Smith the full time point guard. It’s a position that Smith has embraced and feels comfortable with.
“It’s not something that’s new to me, it’s just a matter of getting back into the flow of things,” said Smith. “The different mindset is that I’m the point guard so I have to control the offense, make sure we get good looks and make sure everyone’s in the right spot. It’s all about facilitating and taking care of the ball.”
It was a blow but the Oilers shrugged it off and kept grinding. However, they would be dealt another bombshell just a few weeks later. This time it was starting center Alex White who went down with a knee injury. A second starter was out for the year for Findlay.
White, who had averaged 7.5 points and 5.6 rebounds per contest through those first 11 games had a team high 27 blocked shots the season before. Not only did the Oilers lose a key part of their offense but also a major defensive presence down low.
“We just need to keep building our depth now so that we don’t have to rely on our starters all the time,” said Ernst. “We just lack some experience now. I have to be honest it would be nice to turn around and see Elijah Kahlig or Tyler Stern-Tucker sitting on the bench. Both of them were coming off the bench for the first seven games of the season.”
Despite an unfair amount of setbacks, the Oilers have not wavered. They continue to hold onto that top spot in the GLIAC south and have no plans of giving it up, even if they are into the dog days of the season.
“The beauty of this part of the season is that we know them and they know us,” said Smith. “Now it’s just about going out and playing basketball and whose going to be mentally tougher and physically tougher down the stretch.”
The Oilers will get a chance to avenge one of their losses on Thursday when they play host to the Hillsdale Chargers at 7:30. The Chargers are one of only four GLIAC opponents who have handed Findlay a loss.