By Jeff Thomas
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. - Oh, for a few more seconds on the clock.
The remarkable run of the Cal Poly Pomona men’s basketball team came to a sudden and shocking end Saturday afternoon at the MassMutual Center when senior guard Tyler Evans drained a fadeaway 3-pointer at buzzer in overtime to give the University of Findlay the NCAA Division II national championship.
Cal Poly Pomona fought back from a 14-point second-half deficit, only to go down 56-53 to Oilers, who concluded a perfect season at 36-0 and was ranked No. 1 wire-to-wire.
“We put ourselves in position to win the game, but tonight we didn’t do it and they did,” Cal Poly Pomona coach Greg Kamansky said. “We feel proud of the fact that we put ourselves in position and could have won it.”
The Broncos (25-8), who won 16 of their last 17 to get to this point and had traveled more than 10,000 miles in the NCAA tournament – with another 3,000 or so more to come Sunday – were the feel-good story of the tournament.
That storybook ending almost came to fruition, but a well-guarded Evans picked that point in time to make his only field goal of the afternoon.
“I think it was good defense but he hit a tough shot,” Broncos senior guard Walter Thompson said. “You can’t ask for any better defense out of Dahir (Nasser). It was good pressure and he had his hand in his face. He made a tough shot.”
The game was tied at 53-53 after senior All-American Larry Gordon hit a 15-foot jumper with 12.5 seconds left. There was a held-ball call under Cal Poly’s basket with 2.4 seconds left. Findlay’s Marcus Parker inbounded the ball from the baseline to Evans, who was already a step behind the 3-point arc.
Evans took a dribble back and to his left before taking the shot that swished through the basket 25 feet away and left Nasser on his knees and holding his head in disbelief.
“We were concerned with the inbounder getting the ball back for a quick three, so they got the ball to (Evans) and he kept backing up and backing up and throws a fadeaway three from God knows how many feet,” Kamansky said. “The guy hit a great shot, give him some credit. That’s part of the game of basketball. Win some, lose some.”
It was the second overtime win of the Elite Eight for Findlay, and just the fourth overtime championship game in Elite Eight history.
“I can’t express the feeling that we have winning this game the way it was won with that unbelievable last-second shot, the way we’ve won the last four of our games,” Findlay coach Ron Niekamp said. “It’s an incredible feeling and it’s also a feeling that someone up there is looking out for you when you win four like that.”
The game had the look of a rout for a while, the Oilers taking a 30-20 halftime lead and pushing that lead to as many as 14 with 16:25 left in the game.
“At that time I called timeout and was pretty fired up and said you’re not going down like this,” Kamansky said. “I just told our guys we’ve done it all year and this is not the way we were gonna go down, getting beat handily.
“We got a couple of nice plays and hit a couple of nice shots and next thing you know we got our confidence going and we knew we could play with these guys,” he added.
Gordon, who scored a game-high 17 points, scored on a reverse layup, followed by a Robert Summers 3-pointer. Tobias Jahn (14 points) scored at the rim and Summers made two foul shots. After Gordon scored on a drive to the basket, Jahn scored from the baseline to complete the 13-0 run and get the Broncos within one, 36-35.
After Bostic scored on a putback, Thompson hit a 3-pointer and the game was tied with 7:05 to play.
Both teams had opportunities to win in the closing minutes but neither could capitalize.
In overtime it was much of the same, the lead changing five times before Evans hit his heroic shot to end an incredible season for the Broncos.
“This will sting for a while but we’ll look back in a little bit and say what a great season this was for this team,” Kamansky said. “I can’t tell you how proud I am of these guys. Digging in game after game after game. We’ve won a lot of these overtime games.
“This season I’ll take and there’s probably 300 coaches in Division II who would take this,” he added. “There’s only one coach that wouldn’t and that’s the coach of Findlay.”