By BRIAN LESTER
Five years ago on Friday, we witnessed history. We witnessed incredible in the moment, magic in motion and unbelievable to the highest degree.
The University of Findlay men’s basketball team capped a perfect season with a perfect ending as Tyler Evans nailed a 3-pointer with a defender in his face as time expired in the NCAA Division II national championship game against Cal Poly Pomona. The Oilers defeated the Broncos 56-53 in overtime to become only the fourth unbeaten team in D-II history and only the third to go wire-to-wire as the No. 1 team in the country.
It is still the greatest season I have ever covered, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s one of the greatest seasons in the history of college basketball at any level.
Going undefeated isn’t easy. The chance to slip up is real each and every game night, and when you are the No. 1 team in the country, every opponent is going to pull out all stops to knock you off.
Yet, the Oilers found a way to survive despite playing every Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference opponent twice, home and away, and then grinding their way through a rugged Midwest Regional, which ended with an 86-83 overtime win against Bellarmine.
At the Elite Eight, the Oilers had to beat second-ranked and fellow unbeaten C.W. Post, fourth-ranked Central Missouri and a Cal Poly team that was unranked, although Cal Poly was worthy of being nationally ranked. The voters just didn’t do their job in the final national poll.
It took all the Oilers had to win that title. I still remember seeing the players outside the locker room after their final four win over Central Missouri that Thursday night in the final four. They were dead tired, worn down from back-to-back late games in which they were pushed to the limit.
It’s a good thing that title game wasn’t played the very next day, as it was until the early 1990s, because I’m not sure if the Oilers would have been able to turn around and win a championship game less than 24 hours after surviving in the semifinals.
But fate worked out well for the Oilers, and today, that 2009 UF banner still hangs at every Elite Eight. Highlights of the championship game are played on the video board at the Elite Eight, incuding the shot by Evans. I cover the Elite Eight each year and watch as great teams with big-time expectations come up short of their title goal. It serves as a reminder of just how impressive the accomplishment by the Oilers really was five years ago.
UF has had a good team every year since the title run, but the 2009 Oilers were special. They had the perfect storm of players as Nate Hyde told me before the team’s induction into the Ohio Basketball Hall of Fame, and that group included national player of the year Josh Bostic. The Oilers played as a team. They had different ways of beating you and their effort on the defensive end of the floor was nothing short of tremendous.
I don’t ever expect to see another undefeated season. It was a once-in-a-lifetime season and even I still get chills thinking about it. And no matter how many years go by, the memories of that season will always be vivid and the 2009 Oilers will always be considered one of the best in the history of college hoops.
Follow me on Twitter: @BLester1993.