By BRIAN LESTER
CANTON — The crowd was roaring, the pressure was rising and mental toughness and poise was mandatory not optional.
In a Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference road game the University of Findlay men’s basketball team needed to win, in a hostile Alumni Arena that seemed to have no intentions of coughing a rare victory up to an opponent, the Oilers rose to the occasion when it mattered most.
They could have folded up shop, wilted under the pressure of watching a 40-33 halftime lead against Walsh disintegrate into a 50-44 deficit midway through the second half.
The Oilers had been in tight games before on the road this season and their confidence was shaken both times in a pair of losses by a combined 5 points.
Yet, instead of panic, instead of letting the unforgiving pressure get the best of them, they responded with tremendous effort and poise, battling back to put themselves in a position to win a big game over a quality opponent.
Forget that Walsh is in its first year in the GLIAC. Forget that the Cavaliers aren’t ranked and probably aren’t viewed by outsiders as a good team.
The Cavs are the real deal.
They came in 9-1 on their home floor and just one game behind Findlay and Hillsdale in the South Division. This was a Walsh team that beat a very good Michigan Tech team in Canton and went on the road and knocked off an equally tough Grand Valley State squad.
So for the Oilers to pull through with the win here, aided by Jack Smith’s clutch 3-pointer with the shot clock winding down, Alphonso Baity’s go-ahead layup and a huge defensive stop in the final seconds, says a lot about the Oilers.
Some questioned this Findlay team, wondered if it had the mental toughness and ability to make plays in crunch time.
Those questioned were answered against the Cavs.
The Oilers proved a great deal on Thursday night, and while they still have a lot of big games in front of them and a lot on the line going forward, the win over the Cavs was a step in the right direction.
Follow me on Twitter @BLester1993.