Fans packed the O’rena on Saturday afternoon for a marquee matchup between two of the top scorers in the nation. Both the Oakland University men’s basketball team and conference rival South Dakota State are led by offensive masters, and they did not disappoint as the Golden Grizzlies won their fifth straight game, 88-83.
Oakland’s junior guard Travis Bader entered Saturday’s game averaging 21.76 points per contest, including a career-high 47 against IUPUI a few weeks ago. That mark was the best in the NCAA this season, until South Dakota State’s star senior Nate Wolters scored 53 on Thursday night at Fort Wayne. Wolters barely edges Bader this season, averaging 22.17 points per game entering Saturday.
With both guards in the spotlight, they each turned in impressive performances. Wolters scored a game-high 36, including a perfect nine of nine from the charity stripe. The senior is predicted by many analysts to be taken in this upcoming NBA Draft, and he showed he can do more than score, dishing seven assists, and collecting six rebounds for the Jackrabbits.
Oakland (13-13, 8-4 Summit) head coach Greg Kampe praised the South Dakota State (19-7, 10-3 Summit) star afterwards, citing one particular play in which Wolters hit a reverse layup while falling down after being fouled.
“That’s the things Michael Jordan does, or LeBron does those things, you don’t see guys in the Summit League doing that,” Kampe said. “We beat one heck of a player, that kid is really good. But you know what, I’ve got some kids that can make plays too.”
Bader proved to make plays of his own, leading the Golden Grizzlies with 31 points, fueled by nine threes. Aided by Bader, Oakland was on fire from beyond the arc, hitting 16 3-pointers, shooting 53.3 percent overall from downtown.
“This team knows what were capable of, and we are getting better each and every day and it showing out on the court,” Bader said.
Oakland has certainly shown great potential in the past two weeks, a period of which Kampe called the best his team has looked all season. Rattling off five consecutive victories, Oakland has welcomed in and beaten three straight conference leaders in Western Illinois, North Dakota State, and the Jackrabbits.
Kampe was very pleased in how far his team has come, now sitting at .500 for the first time since Nov. 11, which was only the second game of the year. The coach specifically pointed to an overtime loss to Pittsburgh in November, a game in which Oakland gave away an 18 point lead as a sign of how far Oakland has progressed through he what he called a long climb.
“The difference between this team right now and the team that blew the lead in Pittsburgh is that this team believes that they’re good and that they can win,” Kampe said. “When you have that going for you and you believe you’re not going to lose, you usually don’t.”
While Bader and Wolters garnered all the attention, Kampe singled out another guard who really impressed him. Off the bench, junior Duke Mondy scored 26, and had 6 in both the rebounding and assists categories. Senior forward Drew Valentine scored 12 and sophomore center Corey Petros collected 11 rebounds.
For the Jackrabbits, junior guard Chad White had 21 points and seven rebounds. Junior forward Jordan Dykstra grabbed 11 boards.
Oakland committed a season-low four turnovers, compared to 14 by SDSU. Both teams shot close to fifty percent, with OU going 49.2 percent from the field (59.3 percent in the second half alone) and South Dakota State shooting 47.5 percent.
OU overcame a sloppy end to the first half in which they failed to score a basket over the final six minutes of regulation until Mondy hit a midrange jumper as time expired. During that Oakland slump, SDSU used a 13-0 run to take a 42-38 lead into the locker room. However, the Grizzlies responded in the opening minutes of the second half, using an 11-5 run to retake the lead, and a 9-0 scamper later in the half to put the game away for good.
“The key isn’t that (the scoring slump) happened, the key is how we reacted to it, and that really shows a lot about our team right now,” Kampe said.
Oakland will hit the road for their next three games, starting with a tilt at South Dakota on Feb. 14 at 8 p.m. Oakland returns to the O’rena on Feb. 23 for the Ramada ESPN BracketBuster game against Morehead State.
Contact Timothy Pontzer via email at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @timothy_pontzer