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35-0 Findlay, unranked foe vie for Div. II title

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — No matter who wins the NCAA Division II championship, history is going to be made when Cal Poly Pomona plays Findlay today.

Pomona (25-7) is bidding to become the first unranked team to win the Division II title in 30 years. Top-ranked Findlay (35-0) can become the fourth unbeaten team since the Division II tournament started in 1957.

Whoever wins at the MassMutual Center will also earn the school’s first NCAA title in men’s basketball.

“In November, did I expect us to be here? No, no way,” Pomona coach Greg Kamansky said. “We had major injuries, we were struggling to beat Division III teams. We had an exhibition game against Cal-Irvine, and lost by 40.

“It was embarrassing. You ask yourself, will we win a game?”

The young Broncos matured quickly and have won 16 of their last 17, including their last five. North Alabama was the last unranked team to win the Division II title, in 1979.

In Thursday’s 74-70 victory over Augusta (Ga.) State, Larry Gordon’s 20-point, 11-rebound effort helped Pomona oust the 2008 NCAA Division II runner-up. The 6-foot-5 senior forward shot 54 percent in the regular season, but is hitting 74 percent of his shots in the tournament.

The Broncos face a poised, balanced opponent from Ohio that has been ranked No. 1 since the start of the season.

The most recent unbeaten Division II team was Fort Hays (Kan.) State in 1996, with a 34-0 mark that set a record for most victories by a team that went unbeaten. One more victory would give Findlay a 36-0 record, best ever for Division II.

“We’ve been able to find a way,” Findlay coach Ron Niekamp said. “We were able to execute better in the second half (Thursday) and get the ball inside.”

The Oilers have rallied from sizable first-half deficits in their last two victories. They beat previously unbeaten C.W. Post in overtime of a quarterfinal after trailing by 13, and erased a nine-point, first-half deficit in Thursday’s 67-65 semifinal win over Central Missouri.

An NAIA program until 1999, Findlay has the nation’s Division II player in the year in forward Josh Bostic, who scored 19 points against Central Missouri.

“We are so close to what we have been playing for all year,” Bostic said.

Forward Morgan Lewis had 16 points and 11 rebounds against Central Missouri, and junior guard Marcus Parker hit the game-winning three-pointer.

Findlay has shot 60 percent in the second halves of its last two games, and 41 percent in the first halves. The Oilers had trailed at halftime only once in their first 33 games.

Defensively, Findlay allowed 59.9 points this year, seventh in the nation.

“The problem is finding a weakness, because they do everything so well,” Kamansky said. “They can shoot, post the ball and play great defense.

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