Oakland shocks Clemson in first round of the NIT
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After coming up short in the Horizon League Tournament, the Oakland men’s basketball team entered the National Invitation Tournament as a seventh seed and was sent to second-seeded Clemson University to take on the Tigers in the first round on Tuesday, March 14.
The Golden Grizzlies fought off a 19-point deficit in the second half to defeat the Tigers with a final score of 74-69.
The Golden Grizzlies hung tight with the Atlantic Coast Conference school through the first 12 minutes of play. However, in the remaining eight minutes of the first half, Clemson scored 20 points to Oakland’s 2.
Oakland returned to the court in the second half without its First Team All-Horizon League player Jalen Hayes, who left the game bleeding heavily from the mouth in the first half. The team had a 19-point deficit to erase.
With 7:49 left in the game, the Golden Grizzlies did just that, tying up the game at 61 with a Dorsey-Walker 3-pointer. Not wanting to say goodbye to playing in an Oakland jersey, Dorsey-Walker put up 17 points in the second half, compared to 4 in the first.
“I just stayed confident,” Dorsey-Walker said in the postgame press conference. “Me missing a couple shots early didn’t phase me. I just kept shooting and helped making plays to win the game.”
Along with Dorsey-Walker’s transformation in the second half, the Golden Grizzlies made improvements on other ends. Head coach Greg Kampe credited freshman Isaiah Brock for stepping up in Hayes’ absence.
“I really challenged [Brock],” Kampe said of his halftime talk. “He was soft with the ball in the first half. He wasn’t rebounding, and he played an unbelievable second half. He was the unsung hero out there.”
Brock picked up eight rebounds in the second half, totaling 12 with five offensive rebounds. He also added four blocks, three of which came in the second half.
Kampe admitted the locker room was not a pretty picture during halftime. In addition to being hard on Brock, he lit the entire team up during the break.
“Halftime was not pretty,” Kampe said. “I have not done that with this team . . . I haven’t gotten on this team much. On the court I have, because that’s who I am, but in the locker room everything is always confident and lovey-dovey, and it was not this time.”
Dorsey-Walker said the team went into the locker room unconfident after Clemson’s 12-0 run to finish the half.
“At halftime, we [were] devastated,” Dorsey-Walker said. “Our heads were down. We kept talking about how we need to stay together through this because adversity has hit us . . . and we’ve been there [before], and we responded today.”
The Golden Grizzlies held the Tigers to scoring just 26 points in the second half, shooting 26.7 percent from the field (8-for-30), compared to 48.6 percent (18-for-37) in the first half.
Martez Walker led the team with 23 points, shooting 43 percent from the field. Xavier Hill-Mais also stepped up and performed well for the Golden Grizzlies. He put up 10 points for Oakland and grabbed six rebounds.
For the Tigers, Jaron Blossomgate put up 24 points in his last game at Clemson. Shelton Mitchell contributed the next highest, adding 13 points, 11 of which came in the first half.
It was a good time for the Oakland men’s basketball program’s first-ever win over an ACC school. The Golden Grizzlies entered the game 0-5 against ACC opponents.
“After the game . . . a Clemson fan came up to me and gave me the greatest compliment you could ever have,” Kampe said. “And he said, ‘I’ve been watching games for 30 years here, and your team played harder than any team I’ve ever seen.’”
The Golden Grizzlies will continue on in their first-ever NIT with a game against Richmond. The schedule of the next round has not yet been announced.