March 28, 2009. That was the day Tyler Evans launched a last-second shot that gave Findlay the DII men’s basketball championship in a thrilling 56-53 overtime victory. That unforgettable shot also moved the Oilers to 36-0 — the last perfect team in DII basketball lore.
Ten years have passed and Findlay remains the lone perfect DII men’s basketball team of the millennium. It took every last shot to get there. Findlay went to overtime in three of its final four games of the season to make for an unforgettable run to the 2009 DII men’s basketball championship that will be remembered as one of the most exciting ever played.
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We caught up with Evans ten years later to take a look back at the season, that memorable NCAA tournament run, and of course the shot we all dream of taking.
Nov. 18, 2008: Opening night
Game 1 of the magical season. The Oilers got rolling on the right foot with an 11-point home-court victory over Indianapolis. The starting five that night were all returners from the year before, as were reserves Tyler Sparks and Nathan Hyde, who combined for 22 points in the opener. You could say the wheels were put in motion right there, but for Evans, it all started the season before.
"The year before we played Ohio State in an exhibition game and ended up beating them," Evans said. "That was eye-opening, that we could be really good. We had a really good season that year, I think we lost five games but didn’t go far in the tournament. The next year, we returned everybody."
Don't forget about this great event tomorrow! pic.twitter.com/LzJbyrNTSS— Findlay Oilers (@FindlayOilers) December 28, 2018
Jan. 3, 2009: The new year opens
Findlay entered 2009 a perfect 9-0, defeating its opponents by an average of 19.5 points per game. The Oilers kicked off 2009 with a 71-48 victory over Hillsdale and didn't look back. By the time Feb. 1 rolled around, Findlay had reeled off nine more wins and was sitting at 18-0 with its nemesis Grand Valley State staring down the Oilers for a Feb. 5 showdown.
The Lakers handed Findlay three of its five losses in the 2007-08 season, including the one that ended it in the NCAA tournament. In what would be their closest game in a month of blowouts, the Oilers set the tone with a 69-62 victory over Grand Valley State.
"You play basketball so long, it’s pretty rare you go undefeated," Evans said. "I think everyone, whether they wanted to admit it or not, probably assumed we’d have an off night on the road and lose a game or two. Before we knew it, the season was wrapping up and we hadn’t lost yet.
"We were never in a big-headed way, just complete surprise. The guys in my house, we were all bench players so we spent a lot of the time watching the games anyway. We were like, 'Wow, we’re really good'. Then we started looking at the schedule and were like, ‘We don’t want to lose to any of these teams because we’re better than all of them.’”
March 3, 2009: The GLIAC tournament
The Oilers were officially rolling. They made quick work of the first two rounds of the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference tournament, downing Northwood 81-52 and then Michigan Tech 64-46. Grand Valley State was up next in the GLIAC championship.
Facing off against the Lakers for the third time in the season, the Oilers took home the GLIAC title in a 67-56 victory. The selections were announced for the NCAA tournament shortly after and Findlay found out its first-round opponent: the Grand Valley State Lakers.
March 14, 2009: The NCAA tournament begins
The Oilers had little trouble in the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament. They say beating a team three times in a season is no easy task, but Findlay seemed to have little trouble disposing of the Lakers for a fourth time, winning 66-51 in the first round. Southern Indiana was next, and a 25-point performance by Josh Bostic propelled the Oilers to an 81-59 second-round victory.
It was the last easy win of their season. Here's what came next:
- Midwest Region championship: Findlay beats Bellarmine 89-86 in overtime. The game saw 11 ties, 10 lead changes and a potential game-tying 3-pointer by the Knights overturned to secure Findlay's berth in the Elite Eight.
- Elite Eight: Findlay 89, LIU Post 79. This battle between two undefeated teams went to overtime as well, where the Oilers erupted for a 12-2 margin to ensure victory and head to the national semifinals.
- Semifinals: No overtime, but it easily could have been. Findlay holds on in its first semifinals game to end Central Missouri's season, 67-65.
"That kind of gets forgotten, even by guys on the team, because of that exciting finish in the final game," Evans said. "You kind of forget the nail-biters along the way. It was amazing. When you tell the story, it almost sounds made up. In the final four games we played, we had one that didn’t come down to a final possession."
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Mar. 28, 2009: The championship game
Cal Poly Pomona had fought its way to the final game against 35-0 Findlay. The underdog Broncos traveled coast to coast to Springfield, Mass., and from the unranked to the precipice of a national championship. The two teams played even through regulation, ending in a 42-42 tie.
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Then the dramatics began. Bostic, the DII player of the year, was on the bench. Evans came on, 0-for-3 from the floor on the day. Cal Poly Pomona's Larry Gordon tied the game in the waning seconds of overtime. Findlay missed a chance to put it away on a layup but the Oilers' Lee Roberts grabbed the huge offensive rebound. That set up Evans' one shining moment.
"I had felt good shooting the whole tournament," he said. "You have shorter practice, so as a shooter, you keep yourself sharp.
"This game, up to that point, I was 0-for-3. One was blocked, and the others missed but felt good. Luckily the game was tied, I don’t know how I would have felt if we were down and I needed that shot to not go home a loser.
"When they drew up the play, I felt confident. I definitely wouldn’t say I knew it was going in. But I was excited for the opportunity.
"Eventually, I got it with three seconds. My options were pretty limited. One or two dribbles to the left and step back 3, that was a go-to move for me. I went for it. When it was in the air it sure looked good and felt good.
“I’ve seen the clip thousands of times. The going into the net and all of us kind of piling on top of each other and hugging each other. Man, it just gives me chills thinking about it.”
Us too, Tyler. Us, too.