HOUGHTON - Cinderella Lake Superior State fell victim to a seasoned, yet desperate bunch of Findlay Oilers Sunday.
Largely on the strength of a 24-5 run to open the second half, third-seeded UF won its second Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Tournament championship and its fourth in five years, defeating eighth-seeded LSSU 75-69 at the SDC?Gym.
In some of those tournament championships (like the Oilers' 2009 national championship season), a bid to the NCAA Tournament was already salted away by Selection Sunday. However, this time the GLIAC regular season co-champions were on the outside looking in after the most recent regional rankings and got the automatic bid they needed to extend their season.
Findlay’s Brad Piehl shoots over a Lake Superior State player during Sunday’s GLIAC?Tournament championship game at the SDC?Gym in Houghton. Piehl was named tournament MVP after the Oilers’ 75-69 victory. (DMG photo by David Archambeau)
"These championships will never ever get old, I can guarantee you that, because I understand how hard they are to win," Findlay coach Charlie Ernst said.
Findlay (22-7) displayed remarkable balance throughout the tournament and Sunday's final was no exception, making spots for the All-Tournament Team particularly hard to vote for.
In the end, the vote for most valuable player went to UF center Brad Piehl, who contributed a team-best 14 points and eight rebounds.
"I think we had more bodies, more quality bodies. Their best players ran out of gas a little bit and then they had to rely on them late in the game when they made that big charge at us," Ernst said.
LSSU?advanced to the final by knocking off Grand Valley St. 70-64 Saturday.
For the Lakers (16-13), whose season appeared crippled two weeks before when a buzzer-beating lay-up by Michigan Tech's T.J. Brown cost them a road win and victimized them on ESPN, the closing stretch looked very familiar.
After a bad start to the second half Feb. 23 against the Huskies, LSSU found itself down 12 at the 10-minute mark before shooting its way back to the brink of victory. This time, LSSU was down 17 with 10 minutes to play, but rallied back to within five with 2:36 to play.
"I think this game was very indicative of our entire season. I thought our kids were probably a group that persevered more than any group I've ever had. They continued to fight and battle and just never give up," LSSU coach Steve Hettinga said.
This time, though, the Oilers controlled the endgame and LSSU never got closer than four.
"I thought the kids played hard. We did a lot of good things, the shots just didn't fall for us tonight," Hettinga said.
In addition to Piehl, Greg Kahlig and Dylan Kaufman of Findlay, who scored 12 points apiece, were named to the All-Tournament team, as were Derek Kinney (18 points, 10 rebounds) and Derek Billing (12 points) of LSSU and Ben Stelzer of Tech.
"I thought this gym owed us one, but it wasn't meant to be," Hettinga said.