The friendly confines of the O’rena proved to be just what the Oakland men’s basketball team needed, as they collected their fourth victory of the season, 70-68 over the Valparaiso Crusaders on Monday night.
The game was not decided until the waning moments of the game, when junior guard Duke Mondy scored the winning basket for the Golden Grizzlies (4-7) with only 21 seconds left to play.
“This win is going to give us a lot of confidence,” Mondy said. “We are starting to figure out how to win games.”
Oakland figured out how to win this one by holding Valparaiso (7-4) off the scoreboard for the last 4:46 of regulation, using an 11-0 run to complete a stunning comeback victory.
“Our team needed this with the gauntlet of a schedule we’ve played,” Oakland head coach Greg Kampe said. “Our locker room right now is a very happy place and it hasn’t been that way lately.”
That gauntlet has not been kind to the Golden Grizzlies this year, with Oakland blowing second half leads in four of its seven losses, including an 18-point margin at Pittsburgh last month. Monday night’s game looked like it might be another case of a collapse, but this time, with the crowd behind them (only the third home game for OU this season), the Grizzlies got the W.
“We’ve not closed games this year, having a young team with only one senior,” Kampe said. “But tonight was huge, and this is how teams blossom and grow.”
After trading baskets early, Oakland went on a 13-3 run midway through the first half to grab an early lead over their former Mid-Conference rivals. OU coupled that with a stingy defense that only let Valparaiso score three field goals over nearly eight minutes of regulation. This combination gave Oakland a 34-32 heading into the locker room, despite only shooting 35 percent from the field (while Valpo shot 52 percent) in the first half.
“If you looked at the stats at halftime, you had to ask yourself how we could be ahead,” Kampe said. “I really think Ryan Bass was the key to that first half for us.”
Bass was the only scorer in the whole game with double-figures at the midway mark, scoring ten in the opening half. Kampe complimented the junior point guard on taking good shots and helping to run the offense.
After letting Valparaiso tie the game at 34 with the first score of the second half, Oakland responded with a 10-0 run to jump out to their biggest lead of the game.
However, the dreaded second half collapse seemed imminent as a trio of problems hit the Golden Grizzlies all at once.
Valparaiso responded with a 15-4 run to take the lead for the first time since midway through the first, Bass fouled out, and senior forward Drew Valentine had to be helped to the locker room with an apparent knee injury.
Three straight buckets by senior forward Kevin Van Wijk gave the Crusaders a 9-point lead with less than five minutes to play.
However, star junior guard Travis Bader provided the spark needed to bring Oakland back into the game. Bader attempted a three-pointer from the corner but was fouled as he went up to shoot. Bader swished all three shots from the charity stripe, and Oakland never looked back, going on the key 11-0 run to win behind the heroics of Mondy.
“The crowd energized us at the end and I was very pleased with the last four minutes of the game,” Kampe said.
Mondy hit a jumper to take the lead by one in the final minute, then collected the rebound on the subsequent Valpo possession. After being fouled, he missed the first free throw, but incredibly rebounded his own shot, and then hit one of the next two free throws. Valpo missed a desperation three at the end, and Coach Kampe collected career win No. 494.
“It was a heck of a game, and it had to be fun for the fans to watch,” Kampe said. “Both teams gave everything they got.”
Bader, Mondy and Bass each scored 16 to lead OU. Sophomore center Corey Petros chipped in 12 points and 6 rebounds.
However, Kampe pointed out a different player as the difference in the game.
“If I had to give out a game ball tonight, it would be to Drew Valentine,” Kampe said. “He did not practice all week, he had shots in his knee Monday night and tonight he was outstanding.”
Valentine returned quickly after being taken to the locker room for an examination of a potential knee injury. The senior’s assignment on Monday was star forward Ryan Broekhoff of the Crusaders.
Broekhoff, a senior from Australia, was the Horizon League Player of the Year and an AP Honorable Mention All-American last season. Oakland’s gameplan was to limit Broekhoff, and Valentine did just that, holding him to only 10 points on the night.
Junior LaVonte Dority led the Crusaders with 14 points.
Oakland travels to West Virginia on Wednesday to take on the Mountaineers at 9 p.m. The game will be televised nationally on ESPNU.